Getty Images

Russian Deputy PM Mutko no longer involved in World Cup

Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko will no longer have governmental responsibility for the World Cup, the latest soccer-related role he has left amid scrutiny over his involvement in a state-sponsored doping scheme.

Mutko quit as both head of the World Cup organizing committee and Russian Football Union last month but had maintained he would continue to be involved in planning for the June 14-July 15 tournament.

FIFA confirmed Tuesday that another deputy minister, Arkadiy Dvorkovich, had replaced Mutko as chairman of the local organizing committee (LOC). Dvorkovich’s media team told the TASS news agency that he would now be the “coordinator from the government” on the World Cup.

Former Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov told The Associated Press last month that Mutko issued orders to cover up doping in soccer.

Mutko to step down as head of World Cup organizing committee

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Vitaly Mutko, a top Russian official who has been dogged by allegations of involvement in the Russian doping program, says he will step down as head of the organizing committee of the 2018 soccer World Cup.

Mutko told Russian news agencies on Wednesday that he would be replaced by another World Cup organizer, Alexei Sorokin.

Mutko’s announcement comes two days after he said he would temporarily step down as president of the Russian Football Union in an apparent move to deflect international criticism as Russia prepares to host the World Cup next year.

[READ: Manneh done in Columbus, MLS; signs for Mexico’s Pachuca]

Investigations by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee alleged that Mutko, who served as Russia’s sports minister during the Games, was involved in a state-sponsored doping program during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He has strongly denied all doping allegations.

The IOC didn’t accuse Mutko of being personally involved in doping, but banned him from the Olympics for life, saying he and his ministry bore overall responsibility for “failure to respect” anti-doping rules.

Russia FA chief Mutko expected to carry out World Cup role, despite IOC ban

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Major news transpired on Tuesday as Russia was barred from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics, which are set to be held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Russia — which will play host to next summer’s World Cup — was determined to have direct ties to “state-sponsored doping,” according to a decision by the International Olympic Committee.

[ MORE: SUM president Kathy Carter announces run for U.S. Soccer position ]

At the center of the controversy is Vitaly Mutko, who currently serves as Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, as well as his role as the head of the Russian Football Federation and leader in Russia’s World Cup hosting committee.

In the IOC’s decision, Mutko has been banned for life from all Olympics activity, however, he is expected to continue his role with his native country as Russia prepares to play host to the World Cup in 2018.

On Friday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino spoke about about allegations against the Russians over the country’s ties to doping, but didn’t seem too concerned about the issue.

“As far as I’m concerned and as far as Fifa is concerned, the answer is simple: (the IOC decision) will have no impact,” Infantino said.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected to address the sanctions from the IOC on Wednesday at the All-Russian Forum of Volunteers.

It is uncertain whether FIFA will intervene in the situation following the IOC’s decision.

Russia was drawn in Group A for the World Cup during last week’s festivities, and will be paired with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay during the group stage.

Infantino faces ethics complaint over FIFA leadership

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
1 Comment

LONDON (AP) Gianni Infantino’s leadership of FIFA faced renewed criticism Wednesday when two former officials turned on the president with complaints about his conduct.

New York University law professor Joseph Weiler disclosed he has submitted an ethics complaint to FIFA about alleged undue interference by Infantino on the work of the governance panel he served until May.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic post-UCL loss ]

Weiler quit his FIFA role after the abrupt removal of committee chairman Miguel Maduro, who testified Wednesday to British legislators about the strong pressure applied by Infantino in an apparent attempt to influence decisions.

Maduro said he was told that banning Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko from soccer’s ruling council would be a “disaster” for the 2018 World Cup and Infantino’s presidency could be jeopardized.

But Maduro still went through with the biggest call of his tenure – blocking Mutko, who is also head of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, from seeking re-election to the FIFA Council on grounds of political interference.

“With the exception of that case in general, the president did not try to influence our decisions,” Maduro told the sports committee at the House of Commons. “He would transit to me sometimes those decisions were not well accepted but in that case there was an attempt to influence that decision.”

It came in March just as Russia was preparing to host a World Cup warm-up tournament, where Infantino met with Mutko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“(Infantino) expressed concerns about the impact of the decision (to ban Mutko) on the World Cup,” Maduro said. “He was very clear about that.”

FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura went further to Maduro.

“The secretary general made it clear to me that it was extremely problematic,” Maduro said. “More than that, she said we needed to find a solution to declare Mr. Mutko eligible because otherwise the presidency itself would be in question, the World Cup would be a disaster, that was her view, and the continued presidency of Mr. Infantino would also be in question.”

Mutko’s continued position of power within FIFA was also under scrutiny after he was directly implicated in the state-sponsored doping scandal in Russia.

Maduro said Infantino believes there is “no evidence” Mutko is involved in the Russian doping scandal.

FIFA took six hours to challenge Maduro’s allegations, without saying specifically what was inaccurate.

“For Miguel Maduro to be in regular contact with the FIFA administration, sometimes under his own initiative and in order to seek advice, was normal in the course of his work,” FIFA said in a statement. “Exchange between the administration and FIFA’s committees, which in the end all defend FIFA’s interests, are logical and even desirable, so for these exchanges to be portrayed as undue influence is factually incorrect.”

Weiler confirmed to The Associated Press by email that he had submitted the ethics complaint to FIFA about Infantino, who pledged to clean up the governing body after succeeding the disgraced Sepp Blatter in February 2015.

FIFA said the ethics committee “will not comment on ongoing proceedings nor comment on whether or not investigations are underway into alleged ethics cases.” That is despite FIFA announcing in June, in response to a spate of reports about Infantino, that “there are no open preliminary or investigation proceedings involving the FIFA president.”

The hearing at the British parliament began with committee chairman Damian Collins disclosing correspondence from FIFA blocking ousted investigator Cornel Borbely from taking questions from legislators. Samoura wrote to Collins warning that Borbely is prevented from appearing at the digital, culture, media and sport committee because he is still bound by the FIFA ethics code and Swiss civil and criminal law.

More AP coverage of FIFA at http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Fresh arrest shows FIFA’s corruption turmoil far from over

AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
3 Comments

More than a year since FIFA declared the end of its corruption turmoil, the optimism has proved misguided. The latest arrest, of the man who is one heartbeat from the presidency of world soccer, demonstrated that on Tuesday.

Fresh wrongdoing, still reaching into the heart of power in FIFA, undercuts Gianni Infantino’s pledge to set the governing body on a new path to probity after the misdemeanors of the Sepp Blatter era.

[ MORE: Arnautovic to West Ham ]

Here is a look at fresh offshoots from the corruption scandal that burst into the open when several soccer officials were arrested at a Zurich hotel:

ANGEL MARIA VILLAR

As FIFA’s senior vice president with 19 years’ experience on world soccer’s decision-making body, Angel Maria Villar is one rung down the ladder from Infantino.

Now Villar is fighting accusations of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of a probe into the finances of the Spanish federation he heads.

The 67-year-old Villar was arrested in Madrid on Tuesday along with his son, whose business ventures he is accused of helping to profit from matches arranged for 2010 World Cup winner Spain.

It is not the first time the former Spain international has been embroiled in wrongdoing in his post-playing career in football politics.

Misconduct in a dual role as leader of the 2018 Spain-Portugal bid and a FIFA voter led to him being reprimanded. He was fined for a lack of cooperation with the investigation into 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding, criticized for a “tone and manner” that was “deeply disturbing.”

SHEIKH AHMAD

Until April, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait was one of the most powerful figures in sport despite lacking the commensurate public profile.

The long-time Olympic powerbroker and election “kingmaker” was forced out of his position of power in soccer in disgrace after being directly implicated in a bribery plot uncovered by American investigators. Despite denying wrongdoing, the sheikh quit the election to remain on the FIFA Council ahead of the May election.

RICHARD LAI

The claims against Sheikh Ahmad emerged in the indictment of FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai in a New York court, the latest branch of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer that was revealed in 2015.

Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including at least $850,000 from Kuwaiti officials. The scheme was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes.

VITALY MUTKO

As head of the 2018 World Cup, Vitaly Mutko is central to the success of FIFA’s showpiece event and enjoys privileged access to Infantino and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That is despite mounting evidence uncovered by World Anti-Doping Agency investigators of how he subverted sport through his role in the scheme to cover up doping.

As Russian deputy prime minister, Mutko was banned from re-election to the FIFA Council this year on grounds of political interference. But FIFA’s inertia on Mutko’s role in the Russian doping scandal continues to jar with Infantino’s assertion that he won’t tolerate any transgressions by people in positions of power in soccer.

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports