Russia banned from Olympics, soccer World Cup for doctoring dope tests

By Brian Homewood and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

LAUSANNE/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia was banned from the world’s top sporting events for four years on Monday, including the next summer and winter Olympics and the 2022 soccer World Cup, for tampering with doping tests.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) executive committee acted after concluding that Moscow had planted fake evidence and deleted files linked to positive doping tests in laboratory data that could have helped identify drug cheats.

The decision was a huge blow to the pride of a nation that has traditionally been a powerhouse in many sports but whose reputation has been tarnished by a series of doping scandals.

“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

“The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions…demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today,” he said in a statement.

The impact of the unanimous decision was felt immediately, with WADA confirming that the Russian national team could not take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar under the Russian flag and could only participate as neutrals.

“If they qualify, 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.

It was not clear how that might work in practice. FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, said it was in contact with WADA to clarify the extent of the decision.

The ban also means that Russian sportsmen and sportswomen will not be able to perform at the Olympics in Tokyo next year under their own flag and national anthem.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has come under attack for not taking a harder line on Russian doping, said it fully backed the ruling by the Swiss-based WADA.

“The representatives of the Olympic Movement today supported this unanimous decision in the WADA Executive Committee, which is in line with the statement made by the IOC Executive Board last week and endorsed by the Olympic Summit,” the IOC said.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic organizing committee said it would welcome all athletes as long as they were clean. It would also work with relevant organizations to fully implement anti-doping measures, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said in a statement.

Russia has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by WADA found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics.

Its woes have only grown since, with many of its athletes sidelined from the past two Olympics and the country stripped of its flag altogether at last year’s Pyeongchang Winter Games as punishment for state-sponsored doping cover-ups at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Monday’s sanctions, which also include a four-year ban on Russia hosting major sporting events, were recommended by WADA’s compliance review committee in response to the doctored laboratory data provided by Moscow earlier this year.

One of the conditions for the reinstatement of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, which was suspended in 2015 in the wake of the athletics doping scandal but reinstated last year, had been that Moscow provide an authentic copy of the laboratory data.

The sanctions effectively strip the agency of its accreditation.

The punishment leaves the door open for clean Russian athletes to compete at big international events without their flag or anthem for the next four years, something they did at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

“This protects the rights of Russian athletes by allowing re-entry for those able to demonstrate they are not implicated in any way (in doping),” Reedie told a news conference.

“The decision is designed to punish the guilty parties…it stands strong against those who cheated the system.”

Some Russian officials have tried to cast WADA’s behavior as part of what they say is a broader Western attempt to hold back the country.

Igor Lebedev, a lawmaker and deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said on Monday the move was a serious blow to Russian sport that required a tough response from Russian authorities, the RIA news agency reported.

If RUSADA appeals WADA’s punishment, the case will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Some thought the sanctions did not go far enough.

Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and long a vocal critic of WADA’s handling of the issue, blasted it for failing to impose a blanket ban.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes,” said Tygart in a statement. “WADA promised the world back in 2018 that if Russia failed yet again to live up to its agreements, it would use the toughest sanction under the rules.

“Yet, here we go again; WADA says one thing and does something entirely different.”

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)

Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats over chemical attack on ex-spy

Russia's flag flies from the consular section of its embassy, in central London, Britain March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble

By Costas Pitas and Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats in response to a nerve toxin attack on a Russian former double agent in southern England, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday, adding it was the biggest single expulsion in over 30 years.

May said Britain would also introduce new measures to strengthen defenses against hostile state activities, freeze Russian state assets wherever there was evidence of a threat and downgrade its attendance at the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.

Russia, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the nerve agent attack, said Britain should expect retaliation for its actions.

Former spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury on March 4 and remain in hospital in critical condition. A police officer was also harmed and remains in a serious condition.

May has said the Skripals were attacked with Novichok, a Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent. She had asked Moscow to explain whether it was responsible for the attack or had lost control of stocks of the highly dangerous substance.

“Their response demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said in a statement to parliament.

“They have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

“There is no alternative conclusion, other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.

“This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”

May said the expulsion of the 23 diplomats, identified as undeclared intelligence officers, was the biggest single expulsion for over 30 years and would degrade Russian intelligence capabilities in Britain for years to come.

“We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents,” May said.

She also said new legislative proposals would be urgently developed to counter any threat from a hostile state.

“This will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border,” May said.

British authorities would make use of existing powers to enhance efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those traveling to the UK who could be engaged in activities that represented a security threat.

“We will increase checks on private flights, customs and freight,” she said.

She also threatened action against those she described as “serious criminals and corrupt elites,” adding: “There is no place for these people, or their money, in our country.”

May said Britain would revoke an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit the country and suspend all planned high level bilateral contacts between London and Moscow.

On the soccer World Cup, she said no ministers or members of the British royal family would attend.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas, Estelle Shirbon, Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden, Elizabeth Piper and William James, additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow, writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)

Four Million Bibles Given Out At World Cup

The Brazilian Bible Society says they will be handing out more Bibles at the World Cup than the population of 23 of the 50 U.S. states.

Leaders of the BBS say that they have four million Bibles that will be handed out to competitors, officials and attendees at the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament.

“Brazilians are football-mad and their obsession with football will reach fever pitch over the next few weeks,” said Dr. Rudi Zimmer of the Bible Society of Brazil, reports the United Bible Societies. “We want the Bible to have a prominent presence amid all the excitement. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for churches and Christians here to share God’s Word with local and foreign fans, and we want to equip and encourage them to do that.”

In addition to the Bibles, over 20,000 copies of the Gospel of John will be handed out in Portuguese and eight other languages.

Over 1,600 churches have joined together as part of the outreach effort in what is called the “Fair Play Brazil” outreach.  Those involved say “Fair Play Brazil” was inspired by the apostle Paul.

“Corinth was one of the largest and busiest cities of the Roman Empire and hosted one of the biggest sporting events in the calendar; the Isthmian Games,” said Zimmer. “There, Paul found the opportunity to preach the Gospel to people from all over the world. We and our partners share that same vision now – both for the World Cup this year and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016.”

U.S. World Cup Soccer Star Credits Sport For Boosting Faith In God

The American soccer player who set the U.S. World Cup record for fastest goal scored in competition says that the sport has boosted his faith in Christ.

“My parents had started me in the sport to help me learn good people skills,” forward Clint Dempsey told Sports Spectrum. “Little did I know that the sport I loved and the skills I learned would later play a role in my relationship with God.”

Dempsey grew up in a Catholic family and had given up playing soccer because the family was struggling financially and his sister Jennifer was pursuing professional tennis.  Then his sister suddenly died at age 16 from a brain aneurysm and it sent Clint into a spiral.

“I was faced with questions about why things happen and what role God played in it all. For a number of years, I struggled and put distance between God and me,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey returned to playing competitive soccer after his sister’s death and that return led to him coming back to Christ.

“In college, I joined a team Bible study. God’s Word brought me peace and a desire for a relationship with Him,” Dempsey said. “I found that questioning Him and searching for answers through Scripture helped me grow and gave me direction. Now my faith in Christ is what gives me confidence for the future. I know that through both good times and bad, He is faithful and will watch over me.”

Dempsey, now a married father of 3, became the first American to score in three different World Cup tournaments with his goal against Ghana.

Child Sex Trade Soars In Brazil Ahead of World Cup

Soccer’s major world event, the World Cup, arrives in Brazil in June 2014 and officials in the city say they’ve seen a rise in child prostitution as the event draws closer.

The National Forum for the Prevention of Child Labor, a non-government agency, says the government has been pledging to stop child prostitution for 13 years but has taken very few steps to stop it.

The NFPCL said that at the end of 2012, around 500,000 children were being forced into prostitution in Brazil. The total was five times higher than the total in 2001.

“We’re worried sexual exploitation will increase in the host cities and around them,” Joseleno Vieira dos Santos of Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat told the Guardian newspaper. “We’re trying to co-ordinate efforts as much as we can with state and city governments to understand the scope of the problem.”

The increase in child sex trafficking is being attributed to a number of growing problems within Brazil’s poorer populations including extreme poverty and drug use.

Brazil Drug Cartel Promises “World Cup of Terror”

A Brazilian drug cartel is threatening mass terror attacks during next year’s World Cup.

The cartel, First Capital Command in Sao Paulo, murdered more than 100 police officers in the city last year. The threat of increased terror and violence came as government prosecutors worked to move cartel members to a more secure jail facility.

Six 2014 World Cup matches, including the tournament’s opening game, is scheduled to be held in Sao Paulo.

Soccer’s World Cup draws millions of fans from around the world and would be a major economic boom for Brazil. The recent spate of violence and the threats from drug cartels is putting tourism in question. Officials said that they could not guarantee the safety of anyone who comes Brazil for the tournament.

Rio de Janiero is scheduled to host the Olympics in 2016 and there are fears of violence causing delays in construction of Olympic venues or threaten safety for athletes.