November 10, 2015

GENEVA (AP) In a clash of sports mired in crisis, the FIFA ethics committee will study Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko's role in his country's damaging doping scandal.

Besides being sports minister, Mutko also serves on the FIFA executive committee and is running the World Cup organizing committee ahead of the 2018 tournament in Russia.

On Monday, a World Anti-Doping Agency panel put Mutko's sports ministry at the heart of the doping conspiracy in Russia, claiming it was linked to ''intimidation and interference'' and gave direct orders to manipulate samples.

''We are analyzing this documentation carefully,'' the FIFA ethics committee investigation chamber said Tuesday in a statement.

The unfolding Russian story - combined with allegations of corruption and money laundering against former IAAF president Lamine Diack - threatens to rival scandal-scarred FIFA as the most damaging corruption scandal in world sports.

And Mutko isn't the only executive committee member in an unwanted spotlight this week.

Wolfgang Niersbach resigned Monday as president of the German soccer federation, under pressure in a financial scandal linked to his country's successful 2006 World Cup bid, but insisted he will keep his place on the FIFA executive committee.

And in Colombia, Luis Bedoya resigned as federation leader and will lose his post as one of South America's three delegates on the ruling FIFA panel.

Bedoya has been linked to the U.S. Department of Justice probe of FIFA, which said in May that most South American soccer federation presidents took seven-figure bribes from Copa America rights deals.

Mutko was not linked to financial corruption in the WADA inquiry, which alleged bribery and extortion by other Russian sports officials.

Still, WADA commission leader Dick Pound said Russia practiced state-sponsored cheating and cover-ups of doping in track and field and other sports.

Mutko denied knowledge of wrongdoing in his September interview with Pound's team, which was left skeptical.

''It was not possible for him to be unaware of it,'' Pound said. ''And if he was aware of it, he was complicit in it.''

Pound's report said Mutko was interviewed at the Baur au Lac hotel where he stays on FIFA business in Zurich. The luxury hotel is famous for early morning raids by Swiss police in May to arrest senior FIFA officials suspected of bribery.

FIFA noted Tuesday there were ''no indications that football would be involved'' in the WADA inquiry, which has further reports to publish within weeks.

FIFA declined to comment to The Associated Press on whether Russia and Mutko could have broken its rules prohibiting government interference in sport.

Mutko is due to attend a Dec. 2-3 executive committee session in Zurich and discuss reform ideas to improve FIFA governance and curb corruption.

Niersbach, who was elected by UEFA members to represent them at FIFA through 2019, should also attend next month and contribute to a debate on improving FIFA's image and leadership.

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