BERLIN: German journalist Hajo Seppelt, whose investigative reporting exposed Russia's alleged state-sponsored doping, will not travel to the football World Cup tournament out of security concerns, he said Thursday.
World Cup host Russia had initially refused to issue Seppelt a visa, naming him persona non grata, but later relented after massive international pressure, with FIFA stressing the importance of media freedom to President Vladimir Putin's government.
But Germany's security agencies have since evaluated the situation and found it was risky for the journalist to travel to Russia for the tournament which kicks off later Thursday, said ARD in a statement.
"It is an alarming sign because it means that sports journalism in Russia carries risks and serious consequences," Seppelt told AFP's sports subsidiary SID in an interview.
"If reporting is hindered in this manner, that's worrisome," he added.
Representatives from the broadcaster had held talks with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas over the security issue and the ministry clearly indicated that it shared the intelligence agencies' concerns.
Russia's powerful Investigative Committee has said it intended to question Seppelt on his arrival because he was a key witness in its own investigation into the doping scandal.
Seppelt's documentaries on doping among Russian athletes sparked a storm and ended up with Russia being banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics.
His TV reports concluded that Russia's doping programme was being overseen by the state's security service and that orders for athletes to cheat on a such a scale could only have come from Putin himself -- charges which have been vehemently denied by Russia.
"Im' not disappointed, I'm disillusioned," said the 55-year-old journalist of missing the June 14 to July 15 tournament.
"I can understand that ARD's highest priority is the safety of its employees," he added.