A reporter for the independent television channel Dozhd, during a press briefing in Moscow on December 15, asked Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev why the former Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko was promoted to the deputy prime minister post despite his implication in a doping conspiracy.
“We have no proof that…Minister Mutko is involved," Medvedev said. "If there were proof, he would not be in the government now.”
Medvedev's comments came six days after The World Anti-Doping Agency, the 17-year-old regulator of drugs in sports, issued a scathing investigative report implicating Russian officials and more than 1,000 Russian athletes in a massive cheating scandal designed to mask positive doping tests.
The report, compiled by Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren, concluded that during Mutko's tenure doping in Russian athletics went from being ad hoc to an institutionalized, systemic practice facilitated by the Russian security services and the Ministry of Sport.
Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of the Moscow Laboratory where athletes' urine samples were allegedly tampered with, told the anti-doping agency that he was assured that Mutko was aware of the cheating and that he had conversations with Mutko's concerning the doping program. He added that he was ordered by Mutko's deputy to tamper with specific athletes' samples.
In the months before the 2012 Olympic Games, the report said “various steps and actions were initiated by the (Ministry of Sport) under the leadership and knowledge" of Mutko.
"These initiatives depict a doping regime in transition from uncontrolled chaos to institutionalized, controlled and disciplined," the report said.
The inquiry confirmed the authenticity of documents supplied by Rodchenkov and affirmed the credibility of his testimony, saying that “the immutable forensic and scientific facts” collected in the investigation “support and corroborate (his) interviews.”
Still, McLaren, who met with Mutko during the investigation, said he had “no direct evidence” that Mutko participated in the tampering of doping samples.
After the anti-doping agency report came out, Russian officials dismissed three of Mutko's former subordinates in the Ministry of Sport.
Mutko was named to the deputy prime minister post in October and previously led Russia’s Ministry of Sport during the 2012 and 2014 Olympics.
Mutko responded to the anti-doping agency report, telling the Tass state news agency "now we need to calmly move into the legal arena, which is what will be done."
In his meeting with reporters, Medvedev questioned McLaren's credibility, saying the longtime arbitrator in the Court for the Arbitration of Sport, is a “person with an unclear legal status.”
The International Olympic Committee says the report will have serious consequences for Russia’s Olympic team. The IOC, along with McLaren, will review samples from Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Winter Games.
Meanwhile, Europe’s soccer authority UEFA announced that it started an ethics committee “integrity check” concerning Mutko’s eligibility for a seat on the world soccer – FIFA – governing council.
Mutko has been a council member since 2009 and is running for re-election in April 2017.
UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell said that the McLaren report "appears to contain some serious allegations" about Mutko's involvement in Russia's anti-doping scandal.