Jiri Dvorak was once FIFA’s chief medical officer. For 22 years he worked for soccer’s governing body, and in that time he led programs that researched injuries, sought ways to prevent them, and investigated the use of performance enhancing drugs by players. Dvorak was fired without warning or explanation earlier this year when new FIFA president Gianni Infantino came into power. At the time of his firing, Dvorak had been looking into potential doping violations on the part of Russia—a nation that, let’s not forget, has been banned from Olympic competition due to systemic doping that was officially sanctioned by those in charge of the various Russian sporting programs, nor should we lose sight of the fact that the country will host FIFA’s World Cup next summer. But all of this is surely coincidental.
Dvorak was let go a while ago, and while the decision to get rid of such a longstanding and well respected person raised eyebrows, it wasn’t until the Guardian reported on what Dvorak had been poking his nose into that the potential link between his firing and the Russia stuff came to the fore:
Reliable sources have told the Guardian that Dvorak had started to examine the allegations contained in Professor Richard McLaren’s landmark report for the World Anti-Doping Agency in July 2016, which first exposed the vast Russian doping of athletes and systematic cover-ups at the Moscow laboratory. That report included evidence that 11 footballers were among the athletes doping and alleged Russia’s programme was orchestrated before the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi under the supervision of the ministry of sport itself.
But hey, who’s to say there really was any connection between scores of Russian Olympians pumping themselves full of ‘roids under the knowing auspices of those in charge of the Russian Olympic scene? Just because some Russian weightlifters were juicing, and even about a dozen soccer players were too, that can’t by itself be used to impugn the integrity of all of Russian soccer.
Wait, what’s that you say? Vitaly Mutko, formerly Russia’s Minister of Sport who lost his job for being at the head of the Olympic doping scandal, is still to this day the president of Russia’s soccer federation? The same Mutko whose appointment to the FIFA council got the head of FIFA’s governing committee fired after said committee chairman attempted to block Mutko’s appointment on account of FIFA’s clear rules mandating political neutrality from its members (Mutko is also a deputy prime minister in Russia)? The same Mutko who FIFA’s former ethics committee head was investigating because of his connection to the Olympic doping scandal right before he too was fired? This looks kind of bad!
Thankfully, the Guardian put these tough questions to FIFA, and their responses should erase all concerns about any perceived impropriety. As for why Dvorak was fired, FIFA replied in a statement saying “as part of a review some ‘non-core’ medical projects, which had ‘shown a limited impact’, had been terminated.” When asked specifically about whether Dvorak’s firing had anything to do with the Russian investigation, FIFA had this to say:
“As a standard rule Fifa does not comment on individual human resources matters. As in any other organisation some people leave Fifa and new people come, particularly so during a period of restructuring after the arrival of a new leadership with a new vision. Your speculations around the departure of Prof Dvorak are completely baseless.”
FIFA then said they had already investigated Russia’s soccer federation for doping violations and found nothing. In addition, they have total faith that their new ethics committee head, María Claudia Rojas, will lead FIFA into a brighter, corruption-free future. Sure, the Council of Europe—a human rights watchdog organization—has recently said Rojas lacks the legal and language (she speaks neither English nor French, the two languages FIFA most commonly operates in) skills to efficiently perform the kinds of investigations under her purview. But that’s just the haterade speaking.