The head of the organizing committee for next year's World Cup in Russia has hit back at allegations of state-sponsored doping in the country. Vitaly Mutko's comments came just days before a key IOC meeting.
During a joint press conference with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in Moscow on Friday, Vitaly Mutko, who is also Russia's deputy prime minister, flatly denied that the state was behind the systematic doping of many of the country's elite athletes, as alleged by a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
"I am ready to go to any court, any disciplinary body, and say that in Russia there has never been and never will be any program to cover up doping," Mutko said. "This is an attempt to create an image of an axis of evil. But this is all because we are such a great sport superpower.
He also said his government would defend its athletes "to the last bullet" ahead of next Tuesday's meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), when it could decide to ban Russian athletes from February's Winter Games in South Korea, over the findings of Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.
Mutko also dismissed allegations made in the British media that members of Russia's football team had also used performance-enhancing substances.
"There have been never been any manipulations (with samples) involving our team – and there never will be," he said.
Infantino: No doping problem in football
For his part, Infantino denied that there was any problem with doping in football in Russia or anywhere else.
"I don't think there are many other international sports organizations who are doing as many anti-doping tests as football is doing, with FIFA, UEFA or national associations, in and out of competition, blood, urine, biological passports," Infantino said. "If you would have a serious doping issue in football this would be known by now, whether in Russia or any other country of the world."
The two men were speaking to reporters ahead of the draw for the group stage of next June and July's World Cup, which is to be hosted by Russia.
pfd/ftm (AFP, dpa)