UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin on Wednesday visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, Russia, after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirmed that the country would be allowed to host UEFA European Championship soccer games.
WADA’s compliance review committee has proposed banning Russia from hosting “major events” as part of a package of sanctions over alleged tampering with doping records. WADA’s executive board is to vote on the recommendation on Dec. 9.
However, four European Championship games and the 2021 UEFA Champions League final, also in Saint Petersburg, are not covered.
“As regards UEFA, the Euros is not a multisport major event or a world championship, but rather a regional/continental single-sport event,” WADA spokesman James Fitzgerald told reporters by e-mail. “So it is not affected by this recommendation.”
Putin discussed European Championship hosting plans with Ceferin ahead of a Champions League game in the city.
“We will do everything so as not to let you down and not to let down the fans, the players,” Putin was quoted as saying in a Kremlin transcript.
The meeting had been “planned for a long time” and was not brought about by the WADA recommendations, UEFA said.
It did not comment on whether Putin and Ceferin had discussed the doping issue.
Ceferin complimented Russia for its hosting of last year’s FIFA World Cup, the Kremlin transcript showed.
The European Championship means that Saint Petersburg would be hosting a major international event for the third time in four years after the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and last year’s World Cup.
Incoming WADA president Witold Banka, who takes office on Jan. 1, agreed with Fitzgerald’s assessment that the Euros should not be part of any sanctions and expressed shock at Russia’s behavior.
“The report is truly frightening, because in fact a manipulation has taken place, some of the data has been removed,” Banka told Polish radio station RMF FM.
“Russia had a state system of supporting doping and manipulating data. WADA forensic experts have proven that, at the time when Russia was offered a chance to cleanse the situation, a manipulation took place,” he added.
The European Championships are widely expected to be the second most-watched sporting event in the world next year after the Tokyo Olympics, based on TV viewing.
Research into the 2016 tournament found that the final attracted 284.4 million as an “average in-home global audience” — the industry-standard audit tracking viewers minute-by-minute — and that 600 million viewers watched at least some of Portugal’s 1-0 win over France.
UEFA is not a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code, but Europe’s soccer governing body is a subsidiary of FIFA, which has signed up to the code. UEFA also runs its own anti-doping program.
Instead of the European Championship or the Champions League, Russia could lose the right to host lower-profile events like the 2021 beach soccer world cup, the 2022 wrestling world championships or the 2023 ice hockey world championships.
Russia is accused of altering lab data to remove positive tests, at a time when the data was held by Russian law enforcement. Handing over the data was meant to clear up past cover-ups and smooth Russia’s way back into global sports after years doping scandals.
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