“I am declaring my neutrality,” said Vladimir Putin during a statement at the World Cup opening ceremony. The Russian president, who denied that he had ever smoked, then ordered the mascot Pussy Riot to cover their mouths during a performance, saying: “I’m watching the show here and I don’t want anything to spoil it for you or me.” Putin’s remarks come as Russia tries to prove that the 2018 tournament was primarily a showcase for sporting prowess as it prepares to host the World Cup again in four years time. Russia’s interim prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, for his part, blamed the riot on “disgruntled viewers” who he claimed had been oversensitive to toilet humour. The Russians appear to be trying to play up their less-than-ideal drug-testing record, and show that it is time for them to move on. A World Cup spokesperson confirmed that a can of nitrous oxide had been used to defeat a drug-test in the summer of 2013, after which eight Russian players were banned from the competition.
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