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Anti-doping chief: 'We're fools to believe' Russia's World Cup team is clean

There is no hard evidence that Russia has cheated its way to the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals. There is no concrete proof of doping. But skepticism mounts by the day – and with good reason.

The latest person to publicly suspect Russia’s soccer team of something untoward is none other than the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart. Referencing Russia’s state-sponsored doping program surrounding the 2014 Olympics, Tygart laid out the implicit accusation in an interview with USA Today.

“We’re fools to believe it’s any different this time around from what happened in Sochi,” he told USA Today. “They’re just laughing behind our backs.”

Russia has drawn plaudits – in some ways deservedly so – for its upset of Spain and generally strong performances at the World Cup. That the team’s run has turned into a feel-good story, though, Tygart said, is “a farce.”

“We know for a fact that the government of Russia, when it was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, saw the opportunity to exert national pride and power on the international stage and began doping athletes and swapping [urine] samples to achieve what it set out to achieve, which was winning the medal count and dominating its home Olympics,” Tygart told USA Today. “That’s been exposed. That’s undeniable.

“Now, they’re hosting another huge event. We know the doping system existed even as they continue to deny it, and we also know there’s a direct connection from that system to football in Russia. They’ve proven that they’ll go to any lengths to win.”

Artem Dzyuba celebrates his goal against Spain in Russia’s stunning Round of 16 upset at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Indeed, there is extensive evidence of doping in Russian soccer, even if no members of the 2018 World Cup squad have been found guilty. All members of Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad were recently under investigation based on evidence stemming from the McLaren Report.

And no members of the 2018 squad have been found guilty primarily because FIFA was beholden to Russia, the country set to host its banner event. FIFA refused to act on the evidenceRichard McLaren, the author of the report that led to Russia’s Olympic ban, met with FIFA in 2017 to further detail the evidence of doping in soccer. “Since then,” he told the Mail on Sunday last month, “I’ve heard nothing. I don’t know why they haven’t acted.”

FIFA cited “insufficient evidence” in clearing all current players. But suspicion has picked up as Russian players have covered more ground than any other team at the tournament. Pictures like this one have fed the suspicion …


Again, none of this is concrete evidence. Perhaps it’s irresponsible to even bring it up. But Russia has brought all of the skepticism and accusations upon itself. It has a history of cheating. (And FIFA has a history of letting cheaters go unpunished.) So, as Tygart hinted, there’s little reason to believe Russia has cleaned up its act.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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