We still don’t know what FIFA boss Gianni Infantino (left) is going to do about Russia’s drug problem. (Reuters: Aleksey Druzhinin)
The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to ban the Russian team from February’s Winter Olympic Games is big news; the decision to ban for life Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister is even bigger news.
Vitaly Mutko was the sports minister from 2008 to 2016 and the man guilty of overseeing the state-sanctioned doping program at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
He was rewarded with a promotion. Mutko now sits at the right hand of Vladimir Putin.
Vitaly Mutko, the man behind Russian state-sanctioned doping, was promoted by Vladimir Putin. (REUTERS: Maxim Zmeyev)
His power stretches from politics and business to sport.
He’s the president of the Russian Football Association and in charge of organising next year’s FIFA World Cup.
Like the rest of Russian sport, the nation’s football team stands condemned as cheats.
International pressure is building to outlaw them, ban them from international competition.
But what is the reaction from football’s world governing body, FIFA?
Little more than a statement that says its “taken note” of the IOC decision, adding “the decision has no impact on the preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as we continue to work to deliver the best possible event”.
So, business as usual it seems.
Rio ban prompted Fancy Bears hack
Russia is not known for taking accusations of corruption lightly.
Ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games the IOC was criticised for not banning the entire Russian team.
It handballed the decision to individual sports, which were left to determine whether Russian athletes could take part.
Some were banned, others were allowed to compete by providing evidence that they lived outside Russia and had been subject to doping tests from reputable agencies in the years leading up to Rio.
Russian authorities claimed there was no state-sanctioned doping program and all allegations were politically motivated.
It was not long after that a Russian hacking team known as Fancy Bears — with links to Russia’s secret service — broke into the World Anti-Doping Authority’s database and published medical records of numerous high-profile athletes — including Australians.
They were suggesting all nations have doping issues and Russia was being unfairly treated.
Much of the evidence that led to today’s decision came from Russian whistleblower Gregory Rodchenkov.
He was the mastermind behind the secret switching of urine samples at the Sochi Games.
He fled to the US, where he is living under protection in a secret location after his deputy suffered an unexpected heart attack.
All eyes on Putin’s man, Vitaly Mutko
The IOC was emboldened to take a much tougher approach today after the diary notes of Rodchenkov were used as evidence in confirming the state-sanctioned program took place and that he was directed to establish an elaborate system of cheating by Mutko.
A man as powerful as Mutko is surely considering his options today.
But he may not have any say. Others may decide his future for him, opting to sacrifice him to save Russian sport and more specifically Russia’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup.
But before that there is the Winter Olympic Games.
Russian athletes who can prove they are clean will be allowed to compete in Pyeongchang under the IOC’s flag and should they win gold medals, it is the Olympic anthem that will be played.
IOC president Thomas Bach said the doping saga had been an “unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Games”.
The IOC is sending Russia a legal bill to pay for investigations that led to the banning of its athletes — a sum of almost $20 million.
That money will help fund the Independent Testing Authority — a spin-off from WADA that is to coordinate testing of all sport internationally.
The IOC president says the Russian Olympic Committee’s ban may be partially, or wholly, lifted after Pyeongchang — provided the nation respects and fully implements today’s decisions.
The sporting world now waits for a reaction from Moscow.
FIFA boss must face off with Mutko
From the Olympics to world football, international sport is being shaken to its core.
FIFA is already mired in scandal. Just last year it sacked its president, Sepp Blatter, after investigations revealed widespread corruption in the sport.
It is at the centre of an ongoing corruption and bribery trial in the US Federal Court after dozens of FIFA members were arrested in 2015.
In 2016, new FIFA boss Gianni Infantino promised a new beginning.
Football he said had gone through a “moment of crisis”, but he pledged “those times are over”.
Really? Now Russia has presented him with his biggest test.
The Olympics has acted, what will football do?
Staring them down is one of Russia’s most powerful men, about to host world football’s biggest event.
Will he go or will he stay?
Will the Russian team be banned from the World Cup in its own country?
Russia is a nation of drug cheats. We know that. What we still don’t know is what Infantino’s new supposedly moral FIFA is going to do about it.