KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Vitaly Mutko, one of the great multi-taskers of world sport, has been re-elected as president of the Russian Football Union for a further four-year term.
Mutko, an influential supporter of Aleksander Ceferin’s successful campaign to win the the leadership of European federation UEFA 11 days ago, has proved himself a loyal and remarkable survivor in power under Vladimir Putin.
Both Mutko and Russian state president ‘graduated’ together from St Petersburg where Mutko at one time headed top local club Zenit.
He now holds the reins of sporting power through not only the RFU but also as Sports Minister, as head of the local organising committee of the 2018 World Cup and as a member of the newly-expanded council of FIFA.
How a Sports Minister can also run the RFU without breaching FIFA’s statutes outlawing political influence in national associations has never been clarified.
Russia, however, as was demonstrated in its defiance of an attempt to ban its entire team from the recent Rio Olympic Games, is a powerful player in the world of sport.
Mutko has not been without domestic criticism or opposition. Valery Gazzayev, the former international forward and coach, stood against him in the weekend’s RFU election.
Gazzayev’s campaign was based on a need for the Russian game to be run by someone with a 100pc focus on football, with the national team in crisis after Euro 2016 and the World Cup hosting looking. He polled a significant 142 votes compared with Mutko’s decisive 266.
Mutko was RFU president from 2005 to 2009 when he was forced to stand down, much to his annoyance, by a law change enacted by the then Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, barring government ministers from holding organisational leadership roles.
Once Putin had regained the presidency in 2012 that law was scrapped, clearing the way for Mutko to regain control of the RFU amid its financial chaos in 2015.
Much of Mutko’s time this year has been taken up not with football but with the scandal prompted by allegations of a state-sponsored doping system in Russian sport.
His responses to the damning reports from Richard Pound and Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency have varied from belligerent denial to hand-wringing promises to clean up the system.
In the end, the fact that Russia sent a 250-strong team to Rio and came home with 56 medals and fourth place in the overall table was considered, domestically, as something of a victory for Mutko’s adroit manoeuvring behind the scenes.
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