Russia World Cup could be under threat over doping claims
Fifa urged to act over allegations 2014 squad may have been guilty of drugs offences
Preparations for the 2018 World Cup are hotting up, but host Moscow has been hit once again by the spectre of state-sponsored doping, prompting calls for the country to be stripped of the tournament less than a year before it takes place.
Fifa is investigating claims that the entire 23-man Russian squad at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were involved in the doping scandal exposed by the McLaren report last year.
Russian athletes have become pariahs in many sports in the wake of the scandal, which revealed a widespread plot to replace tainted urine samples from athletes with "clean" ones to avoid detection.
Now a report in the Mail on Sunday says every member of the Russian World Cup squad and 11 other footballers "are among more than 1,000 'people of interest' to officials charged with getting to the bottom of global sport's biggest scandal of the past decade".
Fifa is "in possession of detailed evidence and intelligence", says the paper. "What action they are taking is unclear but respected anti-doping advocates say Fifa must act – or face derision."
With only months to go until the World Cup begins in Russia, the "incendiary developments pose further questions about their suitability to host that showpiece".
The revelations are a "bombshell with a particularly long fuse", says Sean Ingle of The Guardian. McLaren did mention football in his report, but at the time it was unclear which players may have been involved.
"Now we see the picture in high definition," says Ingle. "It always felt strange to believe that football would be any less tainted than rowing, say, or athletics. Or that Russia would attempt to influence the Olympics but not the World Cup. The task, as always, has been proving it.
"Fifa needs to throw everything at this. Of course it will be difficult to prove and prosecute. But one could say the same about previous investigations into Russian sports... there is surely enough evidence to take the World Cup away from Russia."
Vitaly Mutko, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister and a former minister for sport, described the allegations as "nonsense".
He told news agency Tass: "There have never been and will never be any problems with doping in our football – our team are permanently being tested, they undergo doping tests after every match."