Should Russia be allowed to host 2018 World Cup?

At least one thing became clear on Tuesday as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) placed Russia's athletes in a holding pattern high above Rio: It does not want - or trust - Russia to host any major international sporting events.

Yet, the football World Cup remains firmly in Russia's clutches for 2018. The question, surely more than ever before, is why?

After all, it is known from Richard McLaren's report that the major events in Russia, including the 2013 world athletics championships as well as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, were corrupted by the behaviour of the Russian government.

As McLaren put it, it was the Russian Ministry of Sport which "directed, controlled and oversaw" positive doping samples being tampered with and swopped.

Other arms of the state, including the FSB - the Federal Security Service - played an active part too, as did the supposedly independent Russian Anti-Doping Agency.

Yet, while most sporting organisations responded to McLaren's report with grave condemnation, Fifa whistled merrily into the wind.

When Fifa's own ethics committee appointee, Michael Garcia, investigated rumours that bribes were paid to secure the tournament, the Russian bid committee "made only a limited number of documents available for review".

Its statement, which could have been plucked from its files from when Russia won the bid in 2010, declared: "Fifa is confident that the local organising committee and the Russian government are going to deliver an outstanding event for football fans two years from now."

At best that response carried a worrying whiff of complacency, the organisational equivalent of putting on noise-cancelling headphones while everyone else is shouting "fire".

At least Fifa's ethics committee was more robust, saying it would ask the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) for details of the allegations and warning: "If the report reveals violations of the Fifa code of ethics, the investigatory chamber will take appropriate measures."

Yet, one prominent anti-doping campaigner said he believed it would indeed be within Wada's power to call for the World Cup to be taken away from Russia if the country remained in breach of the Wada code and its anti-doping laboratories continued to be suspended.

There is also an unsubtle musk clinging to Russia's 2018 World Cup bid. It was hardly reassuring that, when Fifa's own ethics committee appointee, Michael Garcia, investigated rumours that bribes were paid to secure the tournament, the Russian bid committee "made only a limited number of documents available for review".

As Fifa explained, that was because "the computers used at the time had been leased and returned to their owner after the bidding process (and then) destroyed in the meantime".

The person in charge of that World Cup bid, the Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, is directly implicated in the McLaren report.

It found an e-mail trail that shows he gave the order to "save" a banned foreign footballer who had failed a drug test, which meant his sample was never declared positive and he was free to keep playing.

Yet, while his deputy Yuri Nagornykh, who was also a Russian Olympic Committee member, was sacked, he kept his job.

It comes as little surprise that Mr Mutko, a member of Fifa's executive who also runs the Russian Football Association, promises to welcome Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, who are serving long bans from football, to the 2018 World Cup.

Or that when Blatter finally quit Fifa last year after being mired in corruption allegations, Mutko called it "a courageous decision, with love for Fifa". That, to say the least, was a peculiar spin on proceedings.

One other point: Today, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will rule on whether 68 Russian track and field athletes should be allowed to compete, after being banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Afterwards, the IOC will have to decide whether the whole Russian Olympic team should be banned. A reasonable case can be made for either side. Both the CAS and the IOC will have to decide whether it is fair that a collective punishment can be imposed on an entire country for the behaviour of its government, sports and security officials and some - but almost certainly not all - of its athletes.

Some, understandably, believe that Russia as a whole should pay the price, given its behaviour in recent years. Others argue innocent athletes who have spent their lives wanting to compete at an Olympics should not have it snatched from them.

Certainly when it comes to the possibility of banning Russia, Articles 4.5 and 4.6 of the Olympic Charter appear clear cut. Article 4.5 warns national Olympic committees that, while they can work with governments, "they shall not associate themselves with any activity which would be in contradiction with the Olympic charter", while Article 4.6 states they "must preserve their autonomy and resist pressures of any kind - which may prevent them from complying with the Olympic charter". Russia fails on both counts.

Still there are shades of grey here, whichever side one is on.

However, when it comes to Russia's hosting of the 2018 World Cup, there is no chance of the innocent being punished or the little man getting thumped in the solar plexus. It would be ripping away the tournament from the very people and state authorities who have been shown to have cheated, corrupted, lied and obfuscated - and done everything in their powers to hide it. The 2018 World Cup would undoubtedly provide Russia with enormous prestige - a prestige it surely should now be denied.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Should Russia be allowed to host 2018 World Cup?'. Print Edition | Subscribe