WADA ban leaves FIFA with puzzle over Russia and 2022 World Cup

LAUSANNE/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s national team will not be able to play at the 2022 World Cup as an official Russian side following doping sanctions that bar the country from major sporting events for four years, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets on a bridge festooned with World Cup flags in St Petersburg, Russia, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

However, the ruling leaves open the possibility that Russia could play at the tournament, due to be held in Qatar, on a “neutral basis” -- something that has left world soccer’s governing body FIFA facing an unprecedented situation.

Russia can take part in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup as normal but it remains unclear how exactly the national team would feature in Qatar if they qualified for the 32-team finals.

“If they qualify (for the World Cup), a team representing Russia cannot participate. But if there is a mechanism put in place, then they can apply to participate on a neutral basis, not as representatives of Russia,” Jonathan Taylor, chair of WADA’s compliance review committee, told a news conference.

FIFA’s statutes make clear the World Cup is a tournament for its national member associations and teams play on that basis.

There is no known precedent for a team competing at the World Cup which does not represent a national FIFA member association or feature the name of their country.

Taylor said FIFA had the option of putting in place such a mechanism and that it would allow clean Russian athletes or players to apply to compete as neutrals.

“It will be for FIFA to implement, but they will have to do so in conjunction with WADA,” Taylor said. “But there will be no flag or anthem.”

A spokesperson for FIFA said it had asked WADA and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) to clarify how the ban affected Russia’s football teams.

If Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) appeals the punishment, the case will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The sanctions against Russia, which staged the 2018 soccer World Cup, also bar it from hosting major sporting events or applying to host new events for a four-year period.

But the ruling does not affect St Petersburg, which is hosting some of the pan-continental Euro 2020 games and the 2021 Champions League final.

WADA said those matches were not multi-sport major events or world championships but regional/continental single-sport events.”

European soccer governing body UEFA said it had no comment.

Reporting by Brian Homewood and Simon Evans, Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Simon Evans, Editing by Andrew Osborn/Timothy Heritage/Ken Ferris