MOSCOW — Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who has come under scrutiny in Russia’s doping scandal and was banned from attending the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, was promoted to a deputy prime minister on Wednesday.
President Vladimir Putin approved a proposal by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to appoint Mutko to a deputy premiership in charge of sport, tourism and youth policies, in a decision shown by state TV.
Mutko’s longtime deputy minister, Pavel Kolobkov, a former gold medal-winning Olympic fencer who has represented Russia at the World Anti-Doping Agency, moves up to become the new sports minister.
Mutko’s elevation comes despite him having been personally accused by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren of ordering the cover-up of a failed drug test by a foreign soccer player.
Mutko was also denied accreditation to the Rio Olympics in August by the IOC after being named in the McLaren report. He has denied wrongdoing and suggested the report was biased against Russia.
Mutko’s anti-doping adviser, Nataliya Zhelanova, and one of his deputies at the sports ministry, Yuri Nagornykh, have been suspended on Putin’s orders since July, when McLaren accused them of helping to orchestrate cover-ups of hundreds of drug tests.
Mutko becomes one of nine deputy prime ministers in Russia, a title which adds to the wide array of other posts he holds. In addition to his governmental duties, Mutko is a member of the ruling council of world soccer governing body FIFA, chairman of the local organizing committee for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and president of the Russian soccer federation.
As well as the increase in rank, Mutko’s new role reportedly gives him back powers over youth affairs and tourism, which were previously under his control when they were separated from the sports ministry by Putin in a government shake-up in 2012.
There have been sporadic signs of discontent among some Russian sports figures over Mutko’s leadership. Last month, he survived a leadership challenge as head of the soccer federation, a non-governmental organization. Mutko’s main rival accused him of using the sports ministry’s authority to coerce voters at the federation’s conference and suggested some had been threatened with losing their jobs for failing to back Mutko.
Mutko personally intervened to cover up a doping case of “at least one foreign (soccer player) in the Russian League,” according to email evidence obtained by the WADA inquiry led by McLaren.
The report alleged an additional 11 positive tests of Russian soccer players were made to disappear in a state-sponsored doping program from late 2011 to 2015.
WADA’s executive board called on FIFA’s independent ethics court to act against Mutko, who has been a member of the scandal-scarred soccer body’s ruling panel since 2009.
Among seven key demands, WADA leaders urged FIFA leaders “to look into allegations concerning football (soccer) and the role played by a member of its executive committee, Minister Vitaly Mutko.”
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Minsk, Belarus, contributed to this report.