Rus­sian min­is­ter holds on to foot­ball post as coaches re­volt

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Rus­sian Sports Min­is­ter Vi­taly Mutko is stay­ing in charge of foot­ball in the 2018 World Cup host na­tion.

He faced down a re­volt Satur­day from coaches and of­fi­cials crit­i­cal of tight gov­ern­ment con­trol and poor na­tional team per­for­mances.

Mutko re­mained pres­i­dent of the Rus­sian Foot­ball Union (RFU) after beat­ing for­mer na­tional team coach Valery Gaz­zaev by 266 to 142 votes at the ex­tra­or­di­nary con­fer­ence.

Gaz­zaev al­leged Mutko used his min­istry's in­flu­ence to co­erce vot­ers into back­ing him.

Mutko ac­knowl­edged that "there are prob­lems in foot­ball today with eco­nomic con­di­tions, or­ga­ni­za­tion con­di­tions, at­ten­dance" but said he has long-term plans to fix them, in part us­ing the legacy of the World Cup.

Mutko has run the RFU since last year and was also pres­i­dent from 2005 to 2009 when he stepped down after be­com­ing Sports Min­is­ter, a post which car­ries wide-rang­ing in­flu­ence over Rus­sian foot­ball, even down to the num­ber of for­eign play­ers al­lowed on the pitch dur­ing league games. He is also a FIFA coun­cil mem­ber and head of Rus­sia's World Cup prepa­ra­tions.

Mutko rat­tled off num­bers of newly-built foot­ball fields and sports fa­cil­i­ties in a speech to vot­ers de­liv­ered at full vol­ume and de­fended his record on Rus­sia's dop­ing cri­sis. He also promised to wean clubs off state fund­ing.

Most votes yes­ter­day were cast by re­gional foot­ball fed­er­a­tions, which typ­i­cally rely on the state for li­cens­ing and fund­ing. Gaz­zaev sug­gested some had been forced to back Mutko.

"I know that the Sports Min­istry has switched on its ad­min­is­tra­tive re­sources at full strength and the cur­rent RFU man­age­ment is pres­sur­ing you," Gaz­zaev told the con­fer­ence. "I un­der­stand per­fectly that some of you could lose your jobs." Mutko de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tion. Gaz­zaev ac­cused Mutko of pre­sid­ing over a de­cline in Rus­sian foot­ball, cit­ing the na­tional team's group stage exit at this year's Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, a lack of young tal­ent and de­clin­ing low at­ten­dances at do­mes­tic games.

Gaz­zaev is no po­lit­i­cal out­sider. He was con­firmed Fri­day as a mem­ber of Rus­sia's lower house of par­lia­ment fol­low­ing re­cent elec­tions and has worked closely with in­flu­en­tial fig­ures at the state gas com­pany Gazprom, par­tic­u­larly on a failed at­tempt in 2013 to merge the Rus­sian and Ukrainian foot­ball leagues.

His bid to oust Mutko had back­ing from the Rus­sian coaches' as­so­ci­a­tion, which claimed Mutko's role as a min­is­ter and RFU pres­i­dent broke FIFA rules on con­flicts of in­ter­est and gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence. For­mer RFU of­fi­cial Alisher Ami­nov told The As­so­ci­ated Press he had filed a com­plaint to FIFA's ethics com­mis­sion al­leg­ing Mutko was in­el­i­gi­ble.

"Gen­er­ally speak­ing, we do not see an is­sue as long as the con­flict of in­ter­est rules of the FIFA Code of Ethics are re­spected," a FIFA spokesper­son said by email when asked about Mutko.

There was fur­ther con­tro­versy at Satur­day's con­fer­ence when con­tro­ver­sial fan leader Alexan­der Sh­pry­gin was led away by po­lice for un­clear rea­sons. Sh­pry­gin is head of the All-Rus­sian Fans' Union, two of whose board mem­bers were given prison sen­tences by a French court for their in­volve­ment in vi­o­lence at Euro 2016 in June.

The ARFU said in a state­ment on Twit­ter that its of­fices were be­ing searched, but did not spec­ify the rea­son.

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