Column: State-run doping, thugs, what next from Russia?

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First athletics, now football. With Russia, the problems continue to mount.

The question facing administrators in both sports is do they have the stomach to act decisively? Or will they fudge and obfuscate, essentially becoming complicit in disgusting Russian behavior that should have no place in sports?

This week should provide answers, although, sadly, probably not satisfying ones.

For UEFA, the European governing body of football, the case against Russia should be clear-cut. The European Championship, its flagship tournament, was off to a promising start in France before organized Russian thugs descended on the port city of Marseille with just one thought in their tiny minds: to crack English skulls.

Admittedly, English fans did themselves no favors, with drunken, loutish behavior of their own. But the viciousness of groups of Russians hunting English rivals in organized packs took even the hardened French riot police by surprise.

Because terrorism is France's No. 1 concern after the terror attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November, riot police say their forces and focus were concentrated on securing the perimeters of Marseille's most obvious, target-rich sites: its 67,000-seat stadium and designated zone for fans to watch matches on jumbo TVs.

But instead of extremists with guns and suicide belts, they found themselves facing fight-trained, seemingly well-organized Russian meatheads attacking English fans with fists and worse in the Old Port.

"They were there to smash the British," said Dominique Mesquida, a riot police union representative.

"Like grasshoppers that destroy everything and leave," said another riot police labor leader, Bruno Trani.

The medicine for this disease has to be administered by Russia itself, with lots of arm-twisting from UEFA and world governing body FIFA. Just as England did with its hooligans, driving them out of stadiums and largely underground, Russia's government, police and sports administrators must act decisively and quickly, before foreign fans who travel to Russia for the 2018 World Cup become the next victims of Russian hooligan gangs with a taste for uber-violence.

French authorities say their British counterparts provided plenty of help against would-be hooligans for Euro 2016, confiscating the passports of 3,000 people thought to be a risk so they could not travel to France. But from Russia, almost nothing: Just 30 names, the French say. That shows either that Russian authorities don't have a handle on the scale of their hooligan problem or, which would be worse, that they do but aren't cooperating. Either way, it's not good enough. Police estimated the number of Russians involved in the violence at 200-250. Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin gave a figure of 150 and said they "were prepared for hyper-quick and hyper-violent intervention."

UEFA could fine Russia or tickle it with a feather, because they are the same thing. It could ban Russian fans from a few future matches of the national team, the equivalent of a wrist-slap the hooligans won't feel. Or, better, it could make Russia's qualification for the next championship dependent on real, measureable progress. Say it will dock points off its team, bar its route to Euro 2020, if there is even a whiff of further trouble. That would be embarrassing for Russia because St. Petersburg is among the European cities that will host tournament games. Perhaps that might prompt Russian government action. Perhaps. A decision is expected on Tuesday from UEFA's disciplinary body, after the hooligans took their battle with the English from the streets into Marseille's stadium itself.

Then, on Friday, the spotlight will shine on another massive blackspot in Russian sports: systematic doping in an array of disciplines. Again, the case before track and field's governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, should be clear-cut, because of mounds of compelling evidence that Russian authorities have, at best, long ignored a huge problem right under the noses or, at worst, that Russian officials were complicit in doping programs and cover-ups.

The decision facing the IAAF is, admittedly, a tough one. The collective punishment of a blanket-ban on Russian participation in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August would hurt athletes who have never cheated. But allowing Russian athletes to compete for Olympic medals would also ease pressure on Russian authorities before the clean-up of Russian doping is complete.

Russian doping and Russian hooliganism are Russian problems that Russia itself must sort out. Football fans shouldn't have to worry that they're going to get a Russian fist or flare in their face. Athletes shouldn't have to worry whether the competitor in front of them in a Russian jersey got there with needles and pills.

The only question football and athletics must ask themselves this week is which of those two sides they are on.


John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at or follow him at