Russia 2018 safe even if Mutko isn’t

19 December 2016 Comments 0

My previous post – on saying ‘nyet’ to Russia – was somewhat prescient.

It came a few days ahead of part two of the McLaren Report being published into the full range of state-sponsored doping within Russian sport.

Even before the McLaren Report, there were so many reasons to question Russia’s legitimacy to host the world’s biggest single sporting event, the FIFA World Cup, in 2018 and its forerunner, the Confederations Cup next year. I mentioned a few in my previous post. The annexing of Crimea, the downing of MH17, the denial of rights to LGBTI people, the damning assessment from Human Rights Watch, their faux democratic processes, their alleged intervention in the democratic process of another country, and the denial of membership by the UN Human Rights Council apparently did not ruffle a feather anywhere in FIFA’s Zurich.

But, finally, it seems according to this report from journalist Nick Harris, the McLaren Report has had some cut-through where it may count – the FIFA Ethics Committee.

I say ‘may’ because the FIFA ethics committee has a history of being reactive rather than proactive.

For example, while some FIFA cheerleaders will point out that it’s the action of the ethics committee that led to the banning of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, they fail to mention that the committee really only got serious once the ‘Feds’ moved-in on 27 May last year and when it was apparent that there had to be a very public sacrifice.

Do I think that Russia will lose the 2018 World Cup?

I don’t.

And it’s not that another European country couldn’t host it. England could tomorrow. So could Germany (although their 2006 bid is also under intense scrutiny in Switzerland and Germany), Italy, France and Spain.

It’s clear to me that the way FIFA dragged the chain in ever getting anything done about Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 was largely to safeguard its decisions in the first place. The longer it took for an investigation to start, be conducted, and reported on, the closer FIFA always was to the point of no-return.

Not surprisingly, both Qatar and Russia continue to consolidate their positions as hosts. Not only are they busily constructing stadiums – as we well know – but Russia was a conspicuous supporter of new FIFA President, Gianni Infantino – just as they were of Sepp Blatter until he became too toxic.

And then there are non-football ties that bind also.

Do I think Vitaly Mutko might be in the firing line?

Not internally within Russia.

Let’s not forget Putin promoted him from Sports Minister to Deputy Prime Minister following the interim report from Professor McLaren.

Could Mutko be a high-profile casualty at FIFA?

Quite possibly.

He is president of the Russian FA, head of the Russia 2018 Organising Committee, UEFA executive member and FIFA Council member. He’s currently got his hat in the ring for re-election to the FIFA Council representing UEFA which means he also has to pass the integrity test that was introduced earlier this year.

Then again, others have proven that’s not too hard to do.

But if the claims continue to mount against Russia’s long, sticky fingers in sport; if the evidence of Mutko intervening on behalf of footballers named in the McLaren report passes the benchmark test the FIFA ethics committee sets of whether a ban will get through CAS; and if FIFA are continuing to want to maintain the position they’re currently in – a quasi public peace in attempting to be all things to all people as they seek to retain ‘victim’ status before the Swiss and US jurisdictions – then Mutko’s days should and must be numbered.