Russia's scandal-mired sports kingpin: Vitaly Mutko
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko - banned Tuesday from the Rio Games over doping allegations - is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin who has survived a string of scandals to hit Moscow. A damning report released Monday by the World AntiDoping Agency (WADA) described a rampant system of "state-dictated" doping overseen by Russia's sports ministry to help the country cheat its way to success.
The probe by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren quoted Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov as saying it was "inconceivable" that Mutko did not know about the whole doping system.
The findings are the latest - and most severe - hammer blow for Russian sport under Mutko's watch and threaten to see the country banned from the Olympics in Rio next month. Russia's athletics team is already suspended over similar doping allegations that came out last year. The combative Mutko is now barred from Rio after the International Olympic Committee said it will not grant accreditation to "any official" from Russia's badly tainted sports ministry.
But back at home, the 57-year-old Mutko appears to have retained the support of Putin - a long-time associate - at least for now. The Kremlin has vowed to suspend officials directly implicated in the McLaren report, but insisted there were no hard proof against Mutko, who has been sports minister since 2008. His deputy Yury Nagornykh - a sports bureaucrat who was allegedly the ministry's pointman for covering up doping test failures - and four other officials have been suspended. But despite evidence that Mutko - a member of FIFA's executive who also runs the Russian football association - hid a positive test by a foreign footballer in Russia, he is still clinging on.
Mutko told the R-Sport news agency that there "were not and cannot be any allegations directed against me".
The reign of Mutko a wily bouffanthaired operator - has come as judo-loving former KGB agent Putin focused on sport to bolster Russia's image on the world stage.
During his time at the helm Russia has poured gigantic sums into holding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and won the right to host the 2018 World Cup. As with many of those at the top in Russia today, Mutko's ties to Putin go way back to the early 1990s when the pair worked together in the mayor's office in the president's hometown of Saint Petersburg. "They had friendly relations, which is why he ended up on Putin's team," said Lyudmila Fomichyova, who worked in the same office as the pair. "Putin does not give up his people," she said. Sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, who studies the Russian elites, says that Mutko has maintained the Kremlin strongman's trust by remaining doggedly loyal. "Putin gives orders and these orders are fulfilled," she said. "Putin considers that Mutko does this, which is why he is apparently considered effective."