MOSCOW, December 1, 2017 – Vitaly Mutko, deploying all his political skill, commandeered a World Cup media briefing here today to deliver an aggressive defence of Russian sport four days before a crucial IOC decision on the country’s Olympic status.
Next Tuesday the executive board of the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Lausanne, will decide whether or not to let Russia compete at the Winter Games in PyeongChang in February.
The options are to ban the Russians, order them to compete under a neutral flag (in which case they would withdraw), repeat the ‘Rio compromise’ of delegating decisions to individual sports or allow them to compete under orders to resolve all dope-scandal issues or face suspension from Tokyo 2020.
Russian officials, fearing expulsion, refute collective responsibility and point to all the sanctions imposed by the IOC over the last month on individual athletes from London 2012 and Sochi 2014.
Mutko, president of the local organising committee, had been due to address a World Cup briefing along with FIFA president Gianni Infantino ahead of the draw for Russia 2018.
But Infantino was reduced to little more than a bit part as Mutko – also Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Russian Football Union – capitalised on the streamed international audience to launch the case for the defence – and ramp up the pressure on any wavering members of the IOC board.
He reeled off a perfunctory cascade of World Cup infrastructure statistics before complaining at how foreign critics – including the western media – had turned unbalanced and unfair fire on Russia.
Mutko said: “We are always doing things wrong, some people say. We have this huge project and people always talk about doping, fans not behaving, infectious diseases and so on. People are always trying to get us sidetracked.
“We hope common sense will prevail. We believe in the principle of the presumption of innocence. Any athlete who is guilty of a violation should be punished but collective punishment seems to be in fashion. For example, our paralympic committee has been banned because of individual cases.
“I am happy to go to any court or to any disciplinary committee because there has never been and will never be any state doping programme in this country.
“Since 2009 we are an open and transparent country and working with everyone in a bona fide way. We are playing by the rules. Of course we need to do more but to change mentality or cuture doesn’t happen overnight.”
Mutko took partcular exception to the dripfeed publication in the New York Times of revelations by the asylum-seeking former Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov.
He also railed against what he considered the failures of sport authorities and/or the international media to target anti-doping abuse in other countries, possible misuse of therapeutic exemption certificates and the World Anti-Doping Agency’s meldonium muddle.
Last weekend had seen the reiteration of World Anti-Doping Agency’s report from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren which has identified doping suspicions concerning 155 footballers in Russia including members of the 2014 World Cup squad.
Mutko said: “We are ready to answer all those questions again. Any questions FIFA has we are ready to respond. There has never been any manipulation of our national team, nothing proven. Where is the proof? There is none there.”
An aggressive response was essential because, Mukto thought, “if you don’t fight back you will be smashed.”
He continued: “I love sportsmen and different sports and when people allege we are doing something wrongfully I don’t like this. We have achieved a lot. We are a good partner of the world sports movement and I don’t understand why you have to trample Russia underfoot.
“I believe this is blown out of proportion.”
Coincidentally, as Mutko was speaking, so the IOC was announcing that a further three Russian competitors from Sochi had been banned from competing in PyeongChang for anti-doping offences.