Day 6

Russia is banned from the Winter Olympics, but what about the FIFA World Cup?

This week, the IOC banned Russia from the Winter Games in PyeongChang. Now it's up to FIFA to decide what to do about next year's World Cup — which Russia is hosting.
Russian figure skating coach Tatiana Tarasova looks on while meeting with the media on December 5, 2017, in Moscow, after the International Olympic Committee announced the decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics. (MAXIM ZMEYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

When the IOC made a historic announcement this week banning Russia's Olympic Committee from the winter games in Pyeongchang all eyes turned to FIFA.

The governing body of football is working with Russia to host a World Cup that is six months away.

FIFA needs Russia to host the World Cup next year in 2018. I think that there is a clear impression that they believe that doing anything against Mutko or Russia now could endanger that tournament.- David Conn, The Guardian

The man organizing the event and the chairman of Russia 2018, Vitaly Mutko, had just been banned for life from the Olympics for overseeing the state-sponsored doping scandal that tainted at least a thousand athletes.

Within an hour of the IOC's unprecedented decision, FIFA said "it has no impact on the preparations for the 2018 World Cup."  

Mutko, who is also Russia's Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister of Sport, remains in place. And an investigation into every player on Russia's 2014 World Cup squad may not be completed before the 2018 event.

It's exposing FIFA to ridicule. "Doing nothing", says David Conn, football writer with The Guardian, "is just not a good look."

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko talks to the media during a talk show presentation prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Draw at the Kremlin on December 1, 2017, in Moscow, Russia. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Coming home with the money

David Conn is an investigative journalist whose book, The Fall of the House of FIFA, drills down on the bribery and corruption scandal that, months ago, ripped through football's world governing body.

On Day 6, he says he hopes people don't find him too cynical for noting that when the IOC sanctioned Russia, their money from Sochi was already in the bank.

"The IOC has banned Russia and Vitaly Mutko, which is a bold decision, a good, positive move," Conn says.

The Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko and FIFA President Gianni Infantino talk to the media on December 1, 2017, in Moscow, Russia. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

"But it's three years after it relied on Russia, and Vladimir Putin, and this Russian government to host its mega event, the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, from which, you know the IOC [say]: 'OK, it's now tainted by doping.'  But at the time the IOC got it hosted. It cost $50 billion or something to construct all of that in Sochi. They came home with the money."

"FIFA needs Russia to host the World Cup next year in 2018. I think that there is a clear impression that they believe that doing anything against Mutko or Russia now could endanger that tournament."

And this is why, even with the IOC finding evidence of a vast Russian state sponsored doping scheme, with allegations against the 23 members of the Russian national football team and Mutko's role in both the football program and the Olympics, FIFA remains committed to  Russia's World Cup.

"They have exceptionally friendly, amicable and good relations with Russia at the moment going right up to Vladimir Putin. Because they desperately want the World Cup next year to go ahead, to be a success, and for them to come home with the money."


Propping up Mutko

Conn reports that FIFA appears to have gone to some lengths to protect the central figure, Vitaly Mutko.  

In May, FIFA's ethics committee chairman was "abruptly removed" while investigating Mutko's role in state sponsored doping, a charge that, if proven, would ban him from football.

There is no outside body. There is no independent force. There is no country that can make FIFA behave in any different way.- David Conn, The Guardian

Conn says it's significant that FIFA has not debriefed Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower who administered the doping program for the Russians and whose witness the IOC found credible.  

"There's FIFA and then there is the FIFA Ethics Committee, which is the investigative committee which is supposed to be independent," Conn says.

"But it suggests strongly that neither of those is, as we say, actively pursuing this with anything like the outrage and indignation that it should be."

After the IOC decision, there's plenty of indignation aimed at Russia with some calling for them to be stripped of the World Cup.

"FIFA obviously think that that's a complete non-starter, and, you know, it has to go ahead. And that does look to be informing a lack of action on Russia and on Mutko," says Conn.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia (R) and FIFA President, Gianni Infantino (L) shake hands during the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia on December 1, 2017, in Moscow. (Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Deferring the action, lack of accountability

With just six months to the start of the World Cup, Conn suspects FIFA may be running out the clock.

"My fear is that they won't do anything. And what they'll continue to say is that the independent Ethics Committee is supposedly investigating, but we won't see any action by them and the time will roll on and the World Cup will go ahead in Russia."

It is a law unto itself.- David Conn, The Guardian

Conn argues FIFA is immune to pressure and not accountable.

"There is no outside body. There is no independent force. There is no country that can make FIFA behave in any different way."

"It is a law unto itself."

Except now, FIFA faces the example set by the IOC of how a sporting body should sanction a rogue state.

"There's no hiding place from this question, is there?  Now that the IOC made its decision," says Conn.

"So they have to respond or lose whatever credibility it thinks it has gained since the last wave of corruption scandals. "

"The spotlight is on FIFA."

To hear the full interview with David Conn, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.