MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was banned from the Olympics for life because of his country’s doping scandals, has returned to a senior role in Russian soccer.
Mutko said late last year he would step aside temporarily as Russian Football Union president after the International Olympic Committee imposed the ban. FIFA welcomed that decision ahead of Russia hosting this year’s World Cup.
The RFU said Mutko, who is still formally considered president, took part in a meeting on Wednesday to back Gianni Infantino’s re-election bid as president of FIFA — even though would-be challengers still have more than two months to register.
The RFU refused to comment when asked by The Associated Press if this meant Mutko was back in full control of the organization.
Even after formally stepping aside, Mutko remained closely linked with Russian soccer and attended national team training. The day before Russia’s opening World Cup match, coach Stanislav Cherchesov said he planned to have dinner with Mutko.
Mutko played a leading role in Russia’s bid to host the World Cup and was in charge of the country’s preparations for several years until stepping down from those roles following the IOC ruling.
Mutko was Russia’s sports minister from 2008-16, a period when the World Anti-Doping Agency said ministry officials oversaw rampant dominant, including when Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Known for his pugnacious defenses of Russian athletes and willingness to portray doping allegations as part of an anti-Russian conspiracy, Mutko has said he will appeal against his ban from the Olympics. No date for the case has been set.
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