Russia praised for football hosting as doping casts shadow
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) Russia won praise on Saturday for a successful World Cup warm-up tournament, though it has faced new questions about past doping issues.
Germany captain Julian Draxler joined FIFA President Gianni Infantino in thanking Russia ahead of the Confederations Cup final on Sunday when the 2014 World Cup winner plays South American champion Chile.
''Thank you for your brilliant organization, for the many helping hands along the way, and for always making us feel safe,'' Draxler said in a statement published Saturday by the Germany team.
Infantino said later at a news conference in St. Petersburg stadium that ''everything ran perfectly'' in Russia.
''We were hearing about violence, about incidents, about hooligans, about racism - but we had nothing,'' Infantino said, referring to pre-tournament questions that have dogged football in the host nation.
Still, the doping shadow cast on Russian sports by a series of World Anti-Doping Agency investigation reports since 2015 also re-emerged during the two-week World Cup dress rehearsal.
FIFA is aware of 155 potentially suspect samples given by players in Russia that need to be tested, WADA-appointed investigator Richard McLaren has told German broadcaster ARD.
Infantino, who was flanked by Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, said Saturday he could not set a timetable for Russian cases that the FIFA disciplinary committee must handle arising from McLaren reports.
However, key judgments on the Canadian law professor's allegations against Russia are looming and could be announced within weeks.
An International Olympic Committee panel is preparing to announce its first verdicts involving Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Games who are suspected of benefiting from a state-backed doping conspiracy operating at the Olympic laboratory in Sochi.
''We are waiting as well for these reports,'' Infantino acknowledged Saturday.
Though the IOC panel will look only at Sochi Olympic cases, its rulings will help define the integrity of McLaren's evidence and witnesses that Russian officials have repeatedly sought to discredit.
''If something comes out about (football player) samples having been tampered or whatever then there will be sanctions obviously,'' Infantino said.
Mutko, who chairs the 2018 World Cup organizing committee and was linked in McLaren evidence to covering up one football doping case, again dismissed claims of a government-run program.
''If I perform a Russian dance here in front of you, will you stop asking these questions or not?'' he said through a translator.
''We will never let down this respectable and powerful organization,'' Mutko said earlier, praising FIFA.
In other comments Saturday:
(asterisk)On video review trials in Russia, Infantino acknowledged that referees' ability to communicate their decisions to players and fans is the main focus for improvement.
The FIFA president is a big supporter of video assistance, and believes ''nothing is standing in the way'' of using it at the World Cup.
(asterisk)Infantino is less sure about the future of the Confederations Cup on FIFA's slate of tournaments: ''At this stage there is not more to say.''
(asterisk)Around 27,000 non-Russian used Fan IDs at the tournament - the document allowing ticket-holders visa-free entry into Russia. A breakdown by nationality was not given. Fewer than 100 fans from Cameroon or New Zealand could be seen at their games.
Russian organizers said a total of 440,000 Fan IDs had been issued for the 16-game Confederations Cup.
(asterisk)FIFA officials are satisfied that only two yellow cards for dissent were shown in the first 14 games, suggesting that players are more accepting of referees' decisions and authority.
More AP Confederations Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup