Russian minister facing doping claims steps down as football president
A Russian government minister dogged by allegations of involvement in doping has temporarily stepped down as president of the Russian Football Union.
The move by Vitaly Mutko is apparently intended to deflect international criticism as Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup.
Russian news agencies reported that Mr Mutko has suspended his activities as president for six months and Alexander Alayev has been named to succeed him.
Mr Mutko retains the job of deputy prime minister overseeing sports.
Investigations by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee alleged that Mr Mutko was involved in a sophisticated state-sponsored doping programme during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Mr Mutko, who served as Russia's sports minister during the Games, has strongly denied all doping allegations.
The IOC did not accuse Mr Mutko of being personally involved in doping but banned him from the Olympics for life, saying he and his ministry bore overall responsibility for "failure to respect" anti-doping rules.
Mr Mutko said he wanted to have his duties as president of the Russian Football Union suspended as he was planning to contest his ban from the Olympics at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
He added that he would also probably step down as the head of the World Cup's organising committee.
Dmitry Svishchev, a member of the committee for sports and tourism at the lower house of the Russian parliament, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that Mr Mutko was stepping down in order to defuse criticism of Russia before the run-up to the World Cup.
At a joint news conference with Fifa president Gianni Infantino ahead of the World Cup draw in Moscow on December 1, Mr Mutko reaffirmed his denial of the doping accusations.
"There is no proof" Russia ran a state-backed doping scheme, he said. "Nowadays everyone is trying to make some kind of axis of evil out of us, just because we're a great sporting power."
Mr Mutko sat on Fifa's ruling council until March, when he was barred from running for re-election because his government position was judged a conflict of interest. He was replaced by his long-time associate and fellow World Cup organiser Alexei Sorokin.