By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko has been barred from standing for re-election for a place on the FIFA Council, soccer’s governing body said on Friday.
FIFA said that Mutko, who is also head of the Russian Football Union (RFU), had failed an eligibility check carried out by the FIFA review committee because his ministerial role contravened the statutes of the global soccer body.
Sources with knowledge of the matter said the decision was not connected to the doping scandal which has engulfed Russian sport.
“Vitaly Mutko…was not admitted as a candidate for the position of member of the FIFA Council due to his position as Deputy Prime Minister,” said FIFA in a statement.
FIFA said that its “general principles of political neutrality and the prevention of any form of government interference” were incompatible with being a member of a government.
Mutko was Russia’s Minister of Sport from 2008 until last October, when he was promoted to his current position.
He shrugged off the decision, which he said would have no effect on the World Cup to be staged in Russia next year, and said he would not appeal.
“The committee’s decision has no bearing on that,” Mutko told the Russian news agency TASS.
“I wanted to be re-elected but now the FIFA… has somewhat changed the criteria. A new criteria, political neutrality, has been introduced. This is their right.”
“This is public work, everything is normal,” he added
Russian sport was rocked last year by the publication of the McLaren report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which detailed systematic state-sponsored doping in the country.
It said Moscow had concealed hundreds of positive doping cases from a variety of sports, including soccer.
The report said that Russian Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh had decided which athletes would benefit from a cover-up, known as a SAVE order, although Mutko, it alleged, appeared to make the decision with regard to footballers.
Nagornykh was dismissed in October.
Mutko, who has denied wrongdoing, was among five candidates for four four-year term European places on the FIFA Council, which makes the key strategic decisions for the global soccer body.
The remaining four, who can now be elected unopposed after FIFA said they had passed eligibility checks, are Sandor Csyani (Hungary), Costakis Koutsokoumnis (Cyprus), Dejan Savicevic (Montenegro) and Geir Thorsteinsson (Iceland)
Germany’s Reinhard Grindel, the only candidate for a further European place which has a two-year term, was also approved, FIFA said.
Mutko, 58, has sat on the Council since 2009, when it was known as the executive committee. He will remain in his post until the next FIFA Congress in May.
Although the non-interference rule is a long-standing one, eligibility checks on candidates for office were only introduced last year in response to a corruption scandal.
The elections will take place at the UEFA Congress in Helsinki on April 5. FIFA holds a congress in mid-May at which the new members will join the Council.
(Additonal reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by John O’Brien and Hugh Lawson)