By ROB HARRIS
(AP) – FIFA has made no attempt to contact Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov to gain information about “many” footballers embroiled in the widespread conspiracy by the 2018 World Cup host nation, according to his lawyer.
“Dr. Rodchenkov has information about Russian footballers being protected by the state sponsored doping system,” lawyer Jim Walden told The Associated Press.
If FIFA thoroughly explores Rodchenkov’s evidence it could sharpen the focus on doping in soccer and further undermine Russia’s integrity ahead of the World Cup. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko bowed to mounting pressure this week over his role in the doping scheme and quit as both head of the World Cup organizing committee and the Russian Football Union, while protesting his innocence.
Players from Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad are among 34 soccer cases under suspicion after being identified in a World Anti-Doping investigation by Prof. Richard McLaren into drug use across Russian sports that relied on evidence and cooperation from Rodchenkov, the former Moscow and Sochi lab director.
“He was informed that Russian soccer players were to be protected with the disappearing positive methodology,” Walden said.
Having fled Russia to expose corruption, Rodchenkov is now living in hiding in the United States and assisting investigations through Walden when requests are made.
“WADA and Prof. McLaren … have passed on questions and questions from other federations,” the New York-based Walden said in a telephone interview. “Not a single time did they indicate that FIFA wanted to get in touch with me or wanted information from Dr. Rodchenkov.”
It startles Walden that FIFA President Gianni Infantino is yet to hire an independent investigator to “conduct a full, thorough internal investigation to determine whether or not Russian doping impacted the World Cup team.”
“They haven’t come close to doing that,” Walden said. “My suspicion is they won’t.”
Although Rodchenkov has admitting to overseeing the destruction of about 8,000 doping controls in 2014 following a German television expose, WADA managed to retrieve 3,000 samples including 154 from soccer players. Retests in Switzerland produced no positive results, but they are yet to be subject to forensic analysis to detect manipulation of the samples, including scratch marks which could prove that bottles were forced open and tainted urine swapped out.
FIFA can now also gain access to additional evidence from a database from Rodchenkov’s laboratory that could help to prosecute cases.
“WADA now has the LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) backup data for the Russia lab which has thousands and thousands and thousands of files in a secret portion of the server that show the disappearing positives which also benefited Russian soccer players,” Walden said. “So Infantino is going to have a lot of explaining to if or when WADA publishes a report of all those protected athletes. Not only those 34 soccer players in the list that McLaren found but many other soccer players are proved to be part of the disappearing positive methodology.”
Through his lawyer, Rodchenkov is urging forensic testing of football samples to be prioritized and for FIFA to accept offers of assistance.
“FIFA has its head buried in the sand,” Walden said. “They have known of my existence for many months now. There is no secret about it. They have my contact information. They chose not to use it.”
FIFA told the AP on Dec. 8 it had received information from WADA on Nov. 22 about “Rodchenkov’s availability to testify in individual cases” and that it had “immediately contacted WADA to discuss the next steps.” More than a month on, Rodchenkov is yet to receive any request from FIFA to aid the investigation, Walden said.
“We are now more than a month down the road and they haven’t even placed a call,” Walden said.
FIFA did not respond to a request on Friday to comment on Walden’s criticism. When Infantino appeared alongside Mutko at a news conference in Moscow earlier this month he sidestepped questions about Russian doping by saying he “doesn’t participate in any speculations.”
FIFA is taking its flagship event to Russia despite the country subverting the last major sports event it staged — the 2014 Sochi Olympics — through the doping program.
“Dr. Rodchenkov’s perspective is that as long as Russia denies its complicity in the doping system it can’t be trusted to host international events and its athletes should be subject to very significant scrutiny,” said Walden, who has expressed concerns about his client’s safety as Russia seeks to undermine his testimony.
Further cases of doping in Russian soccer came from an AP analysis of emails collated by WADA that showed five suspicious samples in the Russian men’s under-17 and under-21 national teams in 2013 and 2014. They were all recorded as clean Rodchenkov after instructions to “save” the players. The squads featured players who went on to play for Russia’s senior team. Another case in the Russian league was allegedly covered up by Mutko, emails showed.
FIFA has appeared resistant to pursuing politically sensitive cases against Mutko and Russia, which has been subject to International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee sanctions.
The IOC banned Mutko for life from the Olympics. While Mutko was barred from seeking re-election to the FIFA Council this year, that was on grounds of concerns about political interference due to his government role rather than over his involvement in doping. Bill Bock, general counsel for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, this week called on FIFA to open a case against Mutko for violating anti-doping rules.