KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTNG —- Vitaly Mutko has formally handed over leadership of the local organising committee of the 2018 World Cup to protege Alexey Sorokin.

Mutko announced his impending departure from the post last week in a retreat from the front line aimed at easing negative pressure on both Russia and world federation FIFA about the country’s hosting amid the ongoing controversy concerning his role in the Olympic doping scandal.

Changing the guard . . . Mutko and Sorokin

Days earlier Mutko had also stood down from one of his other postitions as president of the Russian Football Union.

The TASS news agency has reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed the formal order confirming Mutko’s departure from the LOC presidency which is being taken over by ceo Alexei Sorokin.

In practical terms this is only a cosmetic change since Sorokin has held hands-on responsibility for preparations ever since leading the Russian hosting bid to success in December 2010.

Liaison work

Mutko, 59, will remain responsible for government liaison with the organising operation.

He told TASS: “Sorokin will get all the necessary support from the state as head of the organising committee.The project is largely prepared, a lot has been done, and the tasks that we have decided in the past year will be implemented in the near future.”

Kremlin sources have indicated that Mukto will continue as a Deputy Prime Minister at least until elections on Sunday, March 18 when Vladimir Putin is expected to be re-elected as state president. The two men rose together from St Petersburg and Mutko has long performed the crucial role, in sports terms, as a lightning conductor for Putin.

But even in this role Mutko appears to have run out of track though he will remain influential behind the scenes.

Mutko, a former president of Zenit St Petersburg, was head of the RFU between 2005 and 2009 and then returned in 2015 amid financial chaos in place of Nikolai Tolstykh. He was re-elected in September 2016 for a new four-year term.

Officially he stepped down temporarily from leadership of the RFU while he prepares an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a lifetime Olympic ban over the doping scandal imposed by the IOC.