Rus­sian Olympic chief to step down

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

MOSCOW:

The head of Rus­sia’s Olympic Com­mit­tee, Alexan­der Zhukov, is step­ping down, in the big­gest change at the top of Rus­sian sport since a dop­ing scan­dal led to the coun­try’s track-and-field ath­letes be­ing ex­cluded from the Rio Games. Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said Zhukov had told him he wanted to leave the role so he could con­cen­trate on his other job as first deputy speaker in the lower house of par­lia­ment. “This is with­out doubt the right thing, we sup­port it com­pletely,” Putin told a meet­ing of sports of­fi­cials at­tended by Zhukov on Tues­day, adding that he “has done a lot for sport and, I hope, will do more still”.

Zhukov was given the tough task of try­ing to per­suade the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee not to ban Rus­sia en­tirely from the Rio Games de­spite damn­ing re­ports from the World An­ti­Dop­ing Agency (WADA) that un­cov­ered wide­spread state-spon­sored cheat­ing. His low-key, be­hind-the-scenes style was in con­trast to the force­ful ap­proach of Sports Min­is­ter Vi­taly Mutko, who is well known for emo­tional out­bursts.

Rus­sia was even­tu­ally al­lowed to send ath­letes in most sports other than track and field, but was banned from the sub­se­quent Par­a­lympics.

SOCHI COVER-UP

Who­ever re­places Zhukov will play a key role in try­ing to clean up Rus­sia’s rep­u­ta­tion and heal re­la­tions with the wider Olympic move­ment - an im­por­tant pri­or­ity for a coun­try that sees sport­ing suc­cess as a sym­bol of its power and world stand­ing. Rus­sian of­fi­cials made no con­nec­tion be­tween Zhukov’s de­par­ture and the dop­ing al­le­ga­tions.

“In most of the cases, these were made up and were un­founded, in or­der to to­tally dis­credit Rus­sian sport,” Mikhail Mami­ashvili, pres­i­dent of Rus­sia’s Wrestling Fed­er­a­tion, told Reuters.

Zhukov, a Putin ally and for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter, has been pres­i­dent of the Rus­sian Olympic Com­mit­tee since 2010, and was chair­man of the Or­gan­is­ing Com­mit­tee for the 2014 Win­ter Olympics in the south­ern re­sort of Sochi. Rus­sia lav­ished some $50 bil­lion on the Games, a pres­tige project for Putin, and fin­ished top of the medals ta­ble. But a WADA-com­mis­sioned re­port this year de­scribed how, in a clan­des­tine night-time op­er­a­tion, pos­i­tive sam­ples from ath­letes who had cheated were smug­gled out of a lab through a hole drilled in the wall, and then re­placed with clean sam­ples. Rus­sia ac­knowl­edged that there were short­com­ings in its anti-dop­ing op­er­a­tions, but Zhukov was among those who ar­gued it was be­ing un­fairly sin­gled out for pun­ish­ment for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons while dop­ing by other coun­tries was ig­nored. Zhukov quickly rose through the ranks at the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee, which this year ap­pointed him to an in­flu­en­tial role as head of the com­mis­sion over­see­ing Bei­jing’s prepa­ra­tion to host the 2022 Win­ter Olympics. —Reuters

Alexan­der Zhukov

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