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Latest In Sports: Putin Denies Sponsored Russian Doping


It's time for sports.


WERTHEIMER: Russia has lost hosting privileges for three international sporting events after a report showing extensive evidence of state-sponsored doping. Russian President Vladimir Putin, though, is denying his country's government ever supported sports doping. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us on the line to tell us where this story's heading. Good morning, Tom.


WERTHEIMER: First of all, let me start with what Putin said at a press conference yesterday. He denied Russia was involved in state-sponsored doping, but did acknowledge his country has a doping problem. Is that an important distinction?

GOLDMAN: It is. It's the difference between saying we do some doping like everyone else but denying that what they do in Russia is above and beyond. Well, what Russia has done is way beyond. There have been in-depth reputable media accounts coming out of Germany and the U.S. over the past few years detailing a Russian doping system, and then the scathing McLaren report this year prompted by those media accounts.

The report is chock full of physical evidence and facts - you can read them online - detailing a doping conspiracy involving over 1,000 athletes, the FSB - Russia's security agency - and officials in the Ministry of Sport, which is part of the Russian government. That's what's meant by state-sponsored doping, and it directly contradicts Putin's claim yesterday. Linda, the world knows what's going on. As - and as you mentioned, Russia is losing sporting events because of it.

WERTHEIMER: Which ones? Which - what were the events pulled?

GOLDMAN: Well, earlier this month, the bobsled and skeleton world championships scheduled for February in Russia were moved to Germany. A couple of days ago, a top speed-skating event was moved. We don't know where yet. And two biathlon events were moved - voluntarily by the Russians, I might say. In fact, the Russians were praised by the International Biathlon Federation for being proactive and taking the matter seriously. These actions are happening because of the McLaren report and the threat of boycott by athletes if the events stayed in Russia.

WERTHEIMER: So do you think there's a chance that Russia might lose the very big event in 2018, the World Cup soccer championship? Will that be taken away?

GOLDMAN: Probably not. Very slim chance of that for several reasons. Economist Andrew Zimbalist, who's written about the high cost of World Cups, says Russia has built from scratch seven soccer stadiums already for the 2018 event. There have been billions spent on stadiums and infrastructure. Politically, there doesn't appear to be the political will to punish Russia from the heads of major sports organizations. Anti-doping historian John Hoberman told me those leaders live in an ethics-free zone.

The president of FIFA, soccer's governing body, Gianni Infantino, already has said the World Cup isn't moving and that FIFA isn't the world doping police. And, you know, finally, don't expect wealthy soccer players to threaten boycott like the Olympic athletes have done recently. They've got too much to lose.

WERTHEIMER: I also wanted to ask you about the NFL games this weekend.

GOLDMAN: Ah, yeah.

WERTHEIMER: What should we be looking for as we head toward the playoffs?

GOLDMAN: Well, you've got 12 games on this Saturday before Christmas. And certainly we'll know a lot more at the end of today than we know right now. There are four teams in the playoffs - New England, of course, Seattle, Dallas and Oakland. We need eight more. And it may take until the end of next weekend before the field of 12 is complete.

But there are lots of interesting games today. Just to pluck out two, Minnesota is playing a suddenly red-hot Green Bay team, which looked done a month ago but now has won four straight. And the Miami Dolphins started the season one and four. Now they've won eight of their last nine. And they have a chance to make the playoffs, which would be quite a turnaround.

WERTHEIMER: What about a chance for those Cleveland Browns? Could they possibly make it?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Make what, Linda? You mean just win a game against San Diego? You know, there's always a chance, you know, any given Sunday or Saturday, in this case. But there could be a more cosmic reason for the Browns' winless streak to end. As you know, today is a rare confluence of Christmas Eve and the beginning of Hanukkah. There's an alignment of the calendars and maybe of the heavens, which might be what's needed for the Cleveland Browns to win a football game.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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