Vitaly Mutko is distancing himself from Russia’s World Cup bid. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

Vitaly Mutko, a deputy prime minister in Russia and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, announced Wednesday that he is stepping down as head of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee. Mutko has been accused of operating a state-run doping operation in Russia, which led the International Olympic Committee to strip numerous athletes of their Olympic medals. Plus, the Russian Federation has been banned from next year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics, though individual Russian athletes who have been cleared of doping may compete under the designation of an “Olympic Athlete from Russia.”

Earlier this month, Mutko received a lifetime Olympic ban from the IOC over the doping scheme, a sanction he intends to appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport. On Monday, he announced he was temporarily stepping down as president of the Russian Football Union, a move intended to deflect criticism of Russia as it prepares to host next summer’s World Cup.

The issue of Russian doping is likely to remain in the news as the country prepares to host the World Cup. Grigory Rodchenkov, the Russian whistleblower who provided evidence of the Russian doping scheme and now is in hiding in the United States, has alleged that the country’s soccer teams took part in the scheme (as the host country, Russia’s national team received an automatic bid to the tournament). But FIFA has refused to follow the IOC’s lead in sanctioning Russia or Mutko, in part because any punishment of the country’s national team would throw next year’s tournament into chaos. Instead, world soccer’s governing body has promised to install an extensive anti-doping system for the World Cup.

“Speaking about doping, obviously, all players on all teams will be tested in competition and out of competition and we are sure that everyone is well aware of this situation,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said last month.

Mutko was a member of the FIFA Council — its main decision-making committee — until March, when he was barred from standing for reelection because of his status as a Russian deputy prime minister. FIFA rules forbid its officers from holding political office.

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