Rus­sia's scan­dal-mired sports king­pin: Vi­taly Mutko

The Pak Banker - - MARKETS/SPORTS -

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."

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