Russia's Mutko set to lose sport in new cabinet post

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister-designate Dmitry Medvedev on Monday nominated Vitaly Mutko, who oversaw sport at the height of Russia’s doping scandal, as a deputy prime minister overseeing construction.

Speaking to lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party, Medvedev announced that Mutko, a former sports minister who had been in charge of sport since 2016 as deputy prime minister, would be responsible for construction and regional politics, drawing laughter from the meeting’s attendees.

“He’s experienced,” Medvedev said in the televised meeting.

“I remind you that he worked in a region, in St. Petersburg,” he added, referring to Mutko’s time as the city’s deputy mayor from 1992 to 1996.

Mutko has for years shrugged off scandals in Russian sport, including an independent report that Russia ran an elaborate doping cover-up scheme at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Russia has vehemently denied the allegations.

Mutko was banned for life from the Olympics last year as part of Russia’s punishment.

In recent months the 59-year-old has rolled back his involvement in sport as Russia prepares to host the soccer World Cup, which kicks off next month in 11 cities.

He relinquished his position as head of the tournament’s organizing committee weeks after Russia was banned from the Pyeongchang Olympics for what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said was evidence of “systemic manipulation” of anti-doping procedures at the Sochi Games.

Mutko also temporarily stepped down from his position as head of the Russian Football Union.

Medvedev nominated Olga Golodets as the deputy prime minister overseeing sport and culture. During President Vladimir Putin’s last term, she served as deputy prime minister overseeing social policy.

Medvedev, prime minister since 2012, resigned on Monday along with the government in line with standard procedure following Putin’s inauguration for a fourth term as president.

Putin nominated Medvedev to run the cabinet again earlier on Monday.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Kevin Liffey