For all the Russia 2018 describe razzmatazz, darknes cast by Olympics takes off gloss | Martha Kelner23 days ago
Moscow stages the World Cup draw on Friday but Russias systematic doping at Sochi 2014 and beyond has undermined what should be footballs crowning glory
The darkness will be thick and the temperature below freezing in Moscow when the first ball is drawn but the historic snow-dappled domes of St Basil’s Cathedral remain visible from the Kremlin palace even at night.
As a set for the World Cup describe it is a perfect showcase, the imposing houses of the fortified complex and Red Square totemic of Russian power and influence. There are Christmas suns, an ice skating rink and hot sausage stallings in the shadow of one of the most uncompromising political regimes of the modern era.
That contrast between fun and fear will be embodied by next summer’s World Cup. A chance to watch Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to follow England around this vast country but also the knowledge that the host country has serious questions to answer on its attitudes to race, sexuality and human rights. It is understood Vladimir Putin, although not a football fan, will provide an opening address at the depict, keen presumably to take advantage of the political capital on offer.
For all the understandable wariness of Russia 2018, Moscow has offered a window into what the World Cup may be like when it gets under way on 14 June. Access has been closely controlled by the security services but an army of volunteers, decked in red, demonstrated an eagerness to please and experiences have been mostly positive.
The foreign media, often cast as an foe faction by Putin, were treated to a special performance by the Moscow State Academic Theatre and offered gifts of notepads and Russian dolls from the 11 host cities.
” There is an exhilaration about the World Cup ,” one local said.” People are looking forward to it and want to put one over a present- but perhaps not as much as before the Olympics when it was thought it could change how the world viewed Russia. They’ve learned how incorrect the latter are .”
Sochi 2014 and the systematic doping that blighted that event and at least the three preceding Olympics has only reinforced negative views of Russian culture, its attitude towards athletic and fair play. On Thursday evening, as Gordon Banks and Fabio Cannavaro spoke of their pleasure at being chosen by Fifa as draw deputies, news filed through of another two positive narcotics tests from Russian athletes at London 2012. Of 226 samples collected from Russian athletes who participated in London and retested, 21 have been dirty.
Vitaly Mutko, the country’s athletics pastor at that time, is now not only Putin’s deputy but the head of the Russian FA and will be a key figure at the describe. This is despite the publication this week of diaries belonging to the Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, a former head of the Moscow drug lab, which detail sessions with Mutko and offer the strongest evidence yet that Mutko fully knew of the systematic doping programme.
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