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Russia lifts World Cup ban on German journalist

German journalist Hajo Seppelt

Bengaluru, May 16: Russia has granted a football World Cup visa to the German journalist Hajo Seppelt, who was initially denied a visa after after he broke the story on Russia's state-sponsored doping scandal.

"The Russian side has since informed us that @hajoseppelt can at least travel to the World Cup. Let's continue to push for free reporting," Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter.

Seppelt's documentaries on doping among Russian athletes sparked a storm and ended up with Russia being banned from this winter's Pyeongchang Olympic games.

And last week, it emerged that his application for a visa, submitted by public regional broadcaster SWR, was rejected as he was apparently on a persona non grata list in Russia.

Moscow did not specify the reason but Seppelt himself said the "uncovering of the state doping system has had such great impact for Russia that it felt that it needed to take such measures".

News of the ban sparked an outcry in Germany, and Berlin called Moscow's decision to ban Seppelt "wrong".

The German government also warned that it "puts Russia as a host in a bad light if the freedom of the press and of opinion is curtailed before the eyes of the world."

Earlier, the German Football Federation chief Reinhard Grindel said he had spoken with FIFA boss Gianni Infantino to take up the case personally with Russia.

"I told him that I hoped that he would personally get in touch with the Russian government," Grindel said.

Russia was already a disputed choice when it was handed the World Cup in a closely-watched 2010 vote that has since been tainted by bribery charges.

But the row over Seppelt's visa had further roiled an already controversial tournament which kicks off in June.

FIFA said earlier that it had already approved Seppelt's accreditation request to cover the World Cup.

"Generally speaking, the freedom of the press is of paramount importance to FIFA and we always aim to provide media representatives with the best possible conditions for coverage of all FIFA events," FIFA said in a statement.

The dispute also came just days before German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in recent years has clashed repeatedly with Western leaders on a litany of issues including the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

(With AFP inputs)

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    Story first published: Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 14:02 [IST]
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