FIFA President Gianni Infantino hit out at attempts to “undermine” the World Cup in Russia, saying he will not judge the country on the investigation which documented a state-sponsored doping program that included football.
Infantino told The Associated Press it is still “very good” working with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who has been accused of personally intervening to cover up a doping case of at least one foreign footballer in the Russian Premier League.
The details emerged in a report authored by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who was attending an ethics conference at FIFA HQ as Infantino conducted a 30-minute interview withthe AP.
McLaren’s report cast doubt on Russia’s suitability to host sporting events, with the International Olympic Committee temporarily withdrawing its backing for competitions in the country.
“It’s not my job to judge this report,” Infantino told the AP. “As president of football my concern has to be on football matters, has to be on doping in football.
“If there are elements on doping and football, then FIFA’s bodies will deal with that.”
There appears no risk of Russia losing the 2018 World Cup, with only nine months until the doping-tainted nation hosts the Confederations Cup, which serves as the warmup event.
“We should see this as a chance rather than trying to be negative,” Infantino said. “We should see the World Cup in Russia as a chance for FIFA but also for Russia to show itself in a positive light as an organizer and a welcoming country.
“Let’s work in a positive sense in this direction rather than trying to undermine this event.”
McLaren also found that 11 positive doping cases of Russian footballers were made to disappear.
Mutko, as well as being sports minister, leads the country’s football federation, and sits on FIFA’s ruling council. He was banned by the IOC from attending the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last month based on McLaren’s findings, but he retains Infantino’s backing.
“We have committees in place. Whatever evidence Prof. McLaren has, he will send it to the ethics committee of FIFA, and they will instruct or not a case,” Infantino said. “As long as this doesn’t happen I will certainly not participate in any speculation or any problems.
“I am working with the people who are there, who are legitimately elected … he has been working in terms of the organization of the world as far as I can judge in an excellent way so far. So, for me and for us, it is certainly very good to continue working with him.”