By Andrew Warshaw
December 22 – Under-fire Russian World Cup supremo Vitaly Mutko is on the verge of being ousted as head of the country’s football federation following the doping scandal that rocked world sport and heaped pressure on him to stand down.
According to some of Mutko’s fiercest critics and unconfirmed reports in Moscow, the Russian Football Union’s executive committee will meet in emergency session on Boxing Day at which Mutko – for years Russia’s untouchable sports kingpin – will relinquish the presidency and, as an extension, most likely his role as chairman of the World Cup organising committee.
Insideworldfootball understands that Mutko, one of FIFA’s most powerful figures until being thrown off its ruling Council because of a conflict of interest, will be replaced as the RFU’s top official by Alexei Sorokin, Russia’s highly regarded World Cup CEO who took Mutko’s place at FIFA in September.
Sorokin is believed to be assuming the role of vice-president, with elections for the presidency delayed until in the spring. Technically this would allow Mutko to retain some influence over the activities of the RFU though it would nevertheless represent a stunning humiliation for the man who doubles up as Russia’s deputy prime minister and has long denied any involvement in state-sponsored doping.
It is unclear whether he would continue to lead World Cup operations but this would seem highly unlikely if he no longer runs the federation and with the tournament just six months away.
Earlier this month, in announcing that Russia would be banned from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, the International Olympic Committee also barred Mutko for life from the Olympics.
A few days before that announcement, Mutko used a press conference at the World Cup draw in Moscow to launch a personal assault on his critics insisting there “has never been and never will be any manipulation of our national team.”
With FIFA president Gianni Infantino sitting alongside him, Mutko refuted all allegations of state-sponsored doping which, according to Canadian law professor Dr Richard McLaren’s explosive report that sparked the crisis, included 33 footballers.
But now it would appear the pressure has reached breaking point, with Mukto, Russia’s former sports minister, about to give up his long-established sports powerbase. Some sources are suggesting that Infantino personally telephoned his one-time ally urging him to step aside for the benefit of FIFA’s reputation and the image of the World Cup.
In September 2016, Mutko, who has had two spells in charge of Russian football, returned to the RFU presidency by beating former national team coach Valery Gazzaev. Critics argued that his role as a government minister and RFU president broke FIFA rules on conflicts of interest and government interference – exactly the reason he was prevented from retaining his seat on the FIFA Council earlier this year.
Former RFU official Alisher Aminov, who has made it his business to expose alleged corruption within Russian football and filed a complaint to FIFA’s ethics committee without success, has now threatened to take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport – even if Mutko is forced from office.
“Infantino and FIFA covered up and did not consider the obvious fact of an ethics violation,” Aminov, Vice President of the International Fund for Legal Initiatives, told Insideworldfootball by email.
“When I notified them that I am going to CAS, Infantino recommended that Mutko leave the RFU. I am considering whether to keep my appeal to CAS since Mutko and Infantino have escaped responsibility for violations of FIFA and RFU rules and regulations with regard to the September 2016 RFU election.”
FIFA has declined to say whether its new-look ethics committee is investigating Mutko who, during that afore-mentioned press conference, vehemently denied any state-sponsored doping saying he was “happy to go to any court” to prove his case.
But the pressure on him to resign has been given added credence by a report this week in Britain’s Guardian newspaper which claimed that the former chief medical officer at FIFA, Jiri Dvorak, was investigating alleged doping of footballers at the time he was removed without reason by Infantino’s regime. Dvorak left FIFA in late 2016 having served as its most senior medical officer for 22 years. “It was not my intention to leave FIFA so abruptly,” he said at the time.
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