A Tsar is reborn – Mutko returns to power in Russia

It was not an election for Mutko. It was a coronation. But nothing terrible. We’ll live.

So said one of the candidates to me after the Russian Minister of Sport was elected for the second time. Vitali Mutko returns as President of the Russian FA (RFU) for a third time, as I predicted on Friday.

Now he faces a war to get Russia through the next two years and past the World Cup in 2018.


Unwanted Tsar-dom

Vitali Mutko is not the usual Sports Minister, or even FA President. He’s not big on spotlight, prefers checking details and is not a rapacious character when it comes to money.

Essentially he’s a decent sort who has to shoulder a heavy burden. He was happy to sit atop the Sport Ministry tree and leaving the “look at me” bits to functionaries.

However, he had to answer VVP’s call to clean up the house and save the World Cup in 2018.

Rumours flowed like vodka at a wedding in the 24 hours leading up to the election.

Right before the candidate speeches began one shook those who were looking for Mutko to get the job. He’d been carpeted by VVP in the wee hours and told to pull his candidacy.

I heard this from three different sources and all were reporting identically. Moves were afoot in the football community to bring one of their own kleptocrats inside the tent.

It switched right before the 1st candidate came to the lectern. I was told by an RFU insider – “It’ll be just two. Trust me”. He said this while we sat at a table adjacent to the conference hall.

As he returned to the hall I was tempted to tweet, instead I messaged a delegate – “Who’s pulling out before the vote?” He answered, “Nobody. They’re all here.”

Within half an hour, Yefremov and Pryadkin had co-ordinated their withdrawal. It was a two-horse race. Vitali was closer to being the main man again.

A Tsar cleans house

With Gazzaev denied, everything else began falling into place. I was waiting for the result when out came the ultimate ‘mammy’s boy” and walking joke Alexander Shprygin fled the hall.

The morning of the event he was advised to attend his local police station due to an ongoing investigation.

Gobshite to the last, he went to the conference, only to hide in a toilet cubicle when he was told the police were on the way.

Watching police in balaclavas remove him from the hotel was not how I thought it would end a couple of months ago.

I was told by my RFS friend that he’d be gone by New Year, he didn’t even make the end of Autumn.

The RFU further ejected his group of losers from the football family and, if plans are anything to go by, the new organisation to take its place will have roots in England and Germany.

The selection of candidates for the RFU Executive Committee also showed how much football’s fractured family is looking to put pieces together, and Mutko had a seen hand in it.

Rochus Schoch (whom I wrote about here just a couple of weeks ago) was humiliated in his bid to avoid investigation and now faces a series of lawsuits and police interest.

You don’t make money on the ExCo, you have to work hard and take responsibility.

So those who were brought on board – CSKA’s Giner, the CEO of the All-Russian Football Players Union Alexander Zotov and many more – now have authority to make changes to improve Russian football to and beyond 2018.

The Tsar has laid down a marker and it will be enforced.


Mutko 3.0 – A new dawn for football in Russia?

Of everything that took place on Saturday, there were 2 that really brought home the move to building beyond 2018.

The election of Alexander Zotov of the ARFPU to the ExCo showed that Russia is moving past old corrupt and tolerated practices.

As noted in May this year here, Russian footballers at all levels had been dealt a very unfair deal which has been enforced by fearful folk in Dutch-based FIFPro.

Instead of being brave and ripping off the plaster (as Mutko did with Shprygin), FIFPro have shied away from ridding Russian football of the Grammatikov’s Footballers, Trainers (and agents) union.

With the full recognition and acceptance by Russia’s football family of the legal and active Footballers Union, change must surely come in Holland too.

Doping was a topic discussed in the lunch after the conference. Speaking with delegates from the Volga and Urals, they were all interested in access to information, education and materials to improve players without killing them.

Meldonium was discussed as too worrisome, TUE’s were joked about and finally sports nutrition became our focus.

The Olympic-sized scandal which saw Russian athletes partially banned from Rio and Paralympians fully banned, gave an opportunity to those who were fighting doping for years. The “Clean Sport for Ulyanovsk” project is being co-ordinated locally and internationally in an effort to educate and prevent PED abuse.

It’s a small start but an important one. And the main thing, it is a start.

We’ve been having the discussions, now we’re acting upon what is the right thing to do for our future generations.

Now that footballers rights will have a full and open voice. Now that a Russian region has stepped forward to create a new dawn for athletes in the fight against doping.

There might be a few “good news stories” emanating from Russia. However that won’t happen. Russia is in a fight to the death to keep the World Cup here in 2018 and every little win is going to help.

Despite the good start, Vitali Mutko faces an unenviable battle to create a climate of change and have FIFA’s football festival here in 2018.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist, commentator and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports 3.0, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2019 Rugby World Cup.

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