By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Friday dodged questions about the alleged existence of a state-sponsored doping programme in Russia, the host country of next year's World Cup finals that has dismissed the allegations.
Infantino was speaking alongside Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who also serves as the head of the Russian Football Union and the chairman of the tournament's local organising committee, ahead of the World Cup draw at the Kremlin.
"FIFA doesn't participate in any speculations about any situation," he said, referring to allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia that could see the country banned from the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February.
Infantino said FIFA was testing players in and out of competition and that all tests from the 2017 Confederations Cup, the 2016 European championship and the 2014 World Cup had proven negative.
"These tests are not carried out in Russia and they are carried out by non-Russians," Infantino told reporters.
"Obviously, as it was the case in the past and as will be the case in the future as well, if it turns out that anyone has committed a doping violation, has taken some doping, then there will be sanctions."
Infantino added that the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision next week on Russia's participation at the winter Games would have no impact on the World Cup, which will take place in 12 venues spread across 11 cities including Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi.
Mutko vehemently denied the existence of state-backed doping in Russia and said the country was being unfairly targeted by international sports authorities.
"I am ready to go to any court, to any disciplinary body and say that there was never, isn't and never will be any doping cover up programme," Mutko said. "We don't need any of this."
SUSPENDED SPORTS BODIES
Despite pledges to cooperate with international bodies to help rid Russia of deep-seated doping, the authorities have refused to acknowledge the findings of last year's McLaren report that a state-sponsored programme existed.
That refusal has thwarted Russia's efforts to have its suspended sports organisations reinstated.
The country's athletics federation, Paralympic committee and anti-doping agency RUSADA all remain suspended over doping scandals.
The report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), found that more than 1,000 Russian competitors in more than 30 sports were involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a period of five years.
"There can be endless accusations," Mutko said. "But I can say that we didn't create doping."
Mutko stressed that Russia would continue to protect its athletes and fight the recent bans against suspected dope cheats.
"The state will take a firm position and will defend its athletes until the bitter end," he said. "We trust and believe them. We will go to civil courts. We won't leave things like this."
The IOC last month banned more than 20 Russian athletes as part of an investigation into alleged sample tampering by laboratory and security officials at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christian Radnedge)