Russian deputy PM defiant over Olympic doping scandal
Russia's deputy prime minister has strongly defended his country amid an ongoing Olympic doping scandal, and accused opponents of trying to "trample Russia underfoot".
A combative Vitaly Mutko aimed barbs at the International Olympic Committee and global media, and singled out other countries' doping issues, in a 77-minute news conference at the State Kremlin Palace.
Answers lasting more than 10 minutes left Fifa president Gianni Infantino a spectator sitting beside Mr Mutko at a media event that often ignored the pending football World Cup draw ceremony in the same venue.
"If you don't fight back, you will just be smashed," said Mr Mutko, the head of the World Cup organising committee who has been implicated in a state-orchestrated doping programme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"Nowadays everyone is trying to make some kind of axis of evil out of us, just because we're a great sporting power," he said, four days before the IOC executive board meets in Switzerland to consider banning Russia from the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics.
Mr Mutko again insisted "there is no proof" of a state-backed doping system, despite an IOC judging panel this week detailing why it believed organised cheating did corrupt the 2014 Sochi Games.
The IOC panel said on Monday it believed 2014-dated entries in a diary kept by a Russian whistleblower were "significant" evidence.
In diary extracts published on Tuesday by the New York Times, the former director of Russia's anti-doping laboratories directly implicated Mr Mutko in a conspiracy.
Asked if the IOC's decision on Tuesday could affect the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Mr Infantino said he was "very relaxed" about the outcome.
"The answer is simple, it will have no impact," he said. "We are speaking here about the World Cup, not the Olympic Games."
The IOC board previously banned Mr Mutko in July 2016 from the Rio de Janeiro Games when he was the Russian sports minister.
"The IOC is a social organisation. It cannot dictate to a government which staff to appoint," Mr Mutko said, defending his position as head of the World Cup.
He was later asked if he felt embarrassed that a news conference to showcase Russia hosting the World Cup kept returning to an Olympic doping scandal.
"I shouldn't be ashamed about anything," he said. "We are a good partner of the world sports movement. I don't understand why you have to trample Russia underfoot."