Trusted allies: why Putin won't fire sports minister over doping scandal

Thu Jul 21, 2016 6:32am EDT
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By Denis Pinchuk and Dmitriy Rogovitskiy

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin risks personal humiliation if all Russian competitors are banned from the Rio Olympics over doping, as now seems possible; yet the man on whose watch this may happen, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, is not being fired.

The reason: Mutko has delivered victories on the sports field for the past decade and a half to match Putin's ambition of restoring national pride, and the Russian leader stands by the people who give him loyal service.

"Putin trusts him. Putin knows you can work with Mutko," said Mikhail Amosov, who had dealings with both men when they worked in the mayor's office in St Petersburg in the 1990s.

Putin's patience with his subordinate is undergoing its severest test this week after an independent report alleged that Mutko's own deputy was a lynchpin in a program to facilitate doping by covering up athletes' positive test results.

The International Olympic Committee, reacting to the report, said on Tuesday it would consider barring Russia from taking part in the Rio games in any disciplines; a step that would be unprecedented in international sport.

The Court of Arbitration in Sport cleared the path for a blanket ban on Russian competitors going to Rio when it rejected an appeal on Thursday against the earlier exclusion of Russian track-and-field athletes from the games.

Nevertheless, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mutko was not among sports officials set to lose their jobs because he was "not mentioned in the ... report as a direct perpetrator".

Putin's decision to stand by his minister suggests he values trust and loyalty above narrow definitions of managerial competence.   Continued...

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko (L) watch the cross country skiing men's relay during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center near Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, February 16, 2014. Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/via REUTERS/File Photo