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World Cup visa approved by Russia for German journalist who uncovered doping

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A German journalist who uncovered Russia's systematic doping in several sports has been granted a visa for the duration of the World Cup this summer after intervention of the German government, but he may still face further questioning.

Hajo Seppelt had initially been banned from covering the World Cup for ARD TV after Russia declared his visa invalid on Friday. The network said last week it was informed their reporter was on a list of people who are "persona non grata."

"The Russian side has informed us that Hajo Seppelt can travel to Russia for the World Cup at least," German foreign minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. "We will continue to fight for free reporting."

However, the Investigative Committee of Russia released a statement on Tuesday that Seppelt will be subject to questioning if he were to return to the country because he has failed to testify in the country's investigation into former doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesperson for German chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Monday that Russia's decision to deny Seppelt a visa was wrong.

"We are convinced that it would look bad on Russia's part if it would so obviously curb press freedom while the world is watching," Seibert said.

Seppelt previously uncovered state-sponsored doping in Russian sports in his film "The Secrets of Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners." Seppelt has also worked with Russian whistleblowers to expose systematic cheating in Russian track and field.

"Apparently, exposing the state-sponsored doping has far-reaching consequences that Russia believes it must take those measures," Seppelt told SID last week, when the visa was originally denied. "That speaks for itself.

"It will be interesting to see whether FIFA, which must enable unhindered reporting, will attend to the matter."

FIFA said late last week that Seppelt's accreditation for the tournament had already been approved and it was trying to obtain further information from Russian authorities.

"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," the association said in a statement.

German football federation president Reinhard Grindel said on Tuesday, after the announcement of Germany's preliminary World Cup squad, that he addressed the problem in talks with FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

"I made it clear to him that he must personally lodge a complaint with the Russian government to ensure the observance of state guarantees," Grindel said. "He will take action again, and I am confident that this will not be without effect."