MOSCOW: Doping allegations against Russia are an attempt to brand Moscow part of an “axis of evil”, Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said on Friday (Saturday in Manila) ahead of his country’s possible expulsion from the Winter Olympic Games.
“This is an attempt to create an image of an axis of evil. But this is all because we are such a great sport superpower,” said Mutko, who was barred from attending the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio over the drug cheating scandal.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will meet on Tuesday to decide whether to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea’s Pyeongchang over allegations that it ran a state-sponsored doping programme for years.
Russia has already lost its top ranking in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games after being stripped of 11 medals for cheating.
Mutko, who served as sport minister from 2008 to 2016, also chairs Russia’s 2018 World Cup organising committee and was speaking at a press conference ahead of Friday’s draw in the Kremlin for the group stage of the showpiece June 14 to July 15 competition.
Dominating a press conference held jointly with the FIFA president Gianni Infantino, he said Russia “played by the rules” and added that he expected the IOC to presume Russia’s innocence going into Tuesday’s meetings.
He said the government would defend its athletes “to the last bullet”.
“We are relying on common sense, on the IOC Charter, on the assumption that no one abolished the presumption of innocence,” Russian media quoted Mutko as saying.
He decried the “collective punishment” of Russian athletes, adding: “The government will adopt a firm position and defend its athletes until the last bullet.”
And Mutko also dismissed British media allegations that members of Russia’s national football squad were also drug cheats.
“There have been never been any manipulations (with samples) involving our team — and there never will be,” Mutko said.
“But this does not mean that tomorrow some athlete will not violate anti-doping rules. If he violates it, he will be held responsible.”
The term “axis of evil” was coined by former US President George W. Bush in January 2002 to describe governments his adminstration accused of sponsoring terrorism: Iran, Iraq and North Korea.