By Jack Stubbs and Karolos Grohmann
MOSCOW/BERLIN (Reuters) – Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said on Wednesday allegations that he was directly implicated in doping offences were an attempt to sway a ruling on Russia’s ban from international athletics ahead of the Rio Olympics.
German public broadcaster ARD/WDR, whose reports on systematic doping in Russia have led to an investigation and the suspension of Russia’s track and field athletes, said on Wednesday Mutko had covered up a positive doping test by a top-league footballer.
The broadcaster said it had documents to support the allegation, made in a documentary to be shown on Wednesday, as well as footage of banned coaches continuing to train Russian athletes.
“The aim of this film is obvious: to influence the committee on the reinstatement of Russian athletics on the eve of its meeting,” Mutko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
After being suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) last year, Russia is trying to convince sports authorities it is serious about rooting out cheats in time for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
The IAAF will decide whether Russia has done enough to have the ban repealed at a meeting in Vienna on June 17.
The Russian Sports Ministry, in a statement about the new ARD documentary, did not directly address the allegations against Mutko and other state officials. Mutko could not be reached for comment by Reuters.
“Honestly, I don’t even want to comment,” Interfax quoted Mutko as saying. “This huge interest in Russian sport by ARD and other publications has already gone on for a year and a half.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said all doping allegations had to be supported with evidence and unfounded accusations would be treated as “absolute slander.”
The Sports Ministry said Russia had agreed a reform program with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and it understood doping was a large-scale global problem.
“Solving it requires a consolidation of efforts aimed at a continuous improvement of the anti-doping system by all interested parties,” the ministry said in its statement.
Evidence of Mutko’s direct involvement in doping offences could damage his standing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The minister has survived previous crises, helped by his disarming personality, close relationship with Putin and Russia’s improved standing in international sports on his watch.
But Putin is known to demand competence from his officials and sports officials say Russia’s doping problems have weakened Mutko’s position.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan and Janet Lawrence)