23 January 2020

Russia’s new Minister of Sport: a State stooge?

Oleg Matytsin (Олега Матыцина), Russia’s new Minister of Sport, narrowly avoided criminal prosecution in 2012 for a land deal that prosecutors alleged cost the Russian State 120 million roubles (€1.75 million). As such, like many involved in Russian sport, it could be argued that he owes a debt to the Russian State.

Russia’s Ministry of Sport yesterday confirmed the appointment of Matytsin (left in the above picture). He is President of the international university sports federation (FISU); a member of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Education Commission; and has been recognised with an Order of Honour of the Russian Federation bestowed by Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. The city of Ekaterinburg is due to host the 2023 Summer World University Games from 8-19 August.

He was appointed by Dmitry Chernyshenko (Дмитрий Чернышенко – right in the above picture), who was appointed as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sports on 21 January. Chernyshenko was President of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics organising committee from 2007-14, and was Deputy Chairman of the Olympstroy (Олимпстрой) company set up to supervise the construction of facilities for the Games. In 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) removed him from the Beijing 2022 Coordination Commission because of Russian State doping at Sochi 2014.

Listed as a member of the Kremlin, Matytsin narrowly avoided criminal prosecution in 2012 for harming the federal budget through the leasing of federally owned land to ‘commercial entities’. The statute of limitations regarding criminal responsibility expired the day before a July 2012 appeal hearing, which was repeatedly delayed.

The land concerned comprised part of Cherkizovsky Market (Черкизовский рынок) in Moscow. Russian investigators found that Matytsin had leased land owned by the State University of Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism to ‘commercial entities’ from July 2001 until July 2006. The case was delayed for several years due to efforts to close the market.

A 2009 Basmanny Court decision had already removed Matytsin as President of the Russian State University of Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism because of the scandal. In March 2012, Matytsin was found guilty of abuse of office and was sanctioned with a 20,000 rouble (€291) fine for the deal, which was reported to have cost the State 120 million roubles (€1.75 million). Basmanny prosecutors appealed the verdict which they considered too lenient, however the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions had expired.

Cherkizovsky Market was owned by Telman Ismailov (Те́льман Исмаи́лов), the Azerbaijani Chair of the AST group of companies. It was reported that Putin closed Cherkizovsky Market in retaliation against Ismailov’s opening of the lavish Mardan Palace hotel in Antalya, Turkey, in May 2009. After Putin suggested that such money would be better invested in Russia, the AST group of companies signed an US$800 million agreement to construct the hotels for the Sochi 2014 Olympics. 

The agreement was between AST and Olympstroy (Олимпстрой), whose Deputy Chairman, Chernyshenko, appointed Matytsin as Minister of Sport. However, it is understood that following the closure of Cherkizovsky Market, banks would not loan Ismailov the money to build the Sochi 2014 hotels. In 2015, the Mardan Palace was reportedly sold for a reduced price shortly after the Bank of Moscow filed a bankruptcy petition against Ismailov. Swiss prosecutors are currently examining his accounts at the request of Russian banks, reports Kommersant. 


Dr. Rodchenkov has been forced to change his appearance due to fears for his safety…

Russian sport has a history of utilising people who have been subject to criminal charges. Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, has alleged that Russian authorities had a criminal case against him terminated in order to control him.

‘They knew about, and asserted control over, the State sponsored [doping] system, which is exactly why they had a criminal investigation against me terminated on 27 June 2012, so I could continue my work in the Moscow Lab’, writes Dr. Rodchenkov in an affidavit provided to the IOC’s Schmid Commission. ‘Any suggestion that I would have risked operating a doping system without specific commands and approvals is absurd’.

A criminal case under Clause 234(3) of the Russian Criminal Code, which deals with the supply of prohibited drugs, was lodged against Dr. Rodchenkov in the Russian courts (case number 44y-0173/2012). It has disappeared, despite the efforts of investigative journalists to find it.

WADA’s Independent Commission Report heard evidence that Dr. Rodchenkov’s sister took the blame for his crimes…

‘Mutko and Nagomykh knew of this situation with the criminal investigation quite well, as they and other high-level officials in the Kremlin were involved in ending the investigation when the IOC invited me to work within the Ad Hoc Doping Group working in Olympic Laboratory in Harlow during the London Games’, writes Dr. Rodchenkov in his affidavit. Dr. Rodchenkov doesn’t hide the fact that he was investigated for 16 months for distribution of banned substances to athletes. But in the Icarus film, he tells Bryan Fogel that his release was ordered by Putin, due to the invitation to visit the London 2012 Laboratory and in return for running the Sochi 2014 Olympics doping programme.

“You can imagine how important this was to Russia”, says Dr. Rodchenkov. “It was my redemption”. Rodchenkov points out that his boss was Russia’s former Deputy Minister of Sport, Yury Nagornykh, who reported to former Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko, who reported to Putin.


The appointment of Matytsin bears similarities to the situation described by Dr. Rodchenkov. It could be argued that having narrowly escaped criminal prosecution, both feel they owe a debt to the Russian State. 

Mikhail Prokhorov is a former owner of the Brooklyn Nets…

Many ‘oligarchs’ who became billionaires due to privatisation of former State industries are now major investors in sport. They include Vladimir Lisin, President of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF); Alisher Usmanov, President of the international fencing federation (FIE); and Mikhail Prokhorov, former President of the Russian biathlon union (RBU). It could also be argued that they also owe a debt to the Russian State. For example, in Prokhorov’s case, it has been alleged that the Kremlin allowed him the opportunity to purchase Norilsk Nikel for a fraction of its market value.

And in some cases, their actions appear to support the Russian State. After calling for the ‘toughest sanctions’ against Russia, IOC President Thomas Bach presented Alisher Usmanov with the IOC Trophy of Olympic Values four days later. A cynic might argue that this was a reward for Usmanov, after he pledged massive investment into fencing. 

Sport needs investment and it needs cities prepared to spend money on hosting its events. Lisin, who became rich through the Trans World Group’s purchase of the Russian State’s aluminium industry, has pledged similar investment in shooting.

Detail from Dr. Rodchenkov’s affidavit suggesting his involvement in bribing athletes to keep quiet about doping…

In his affidavit, Dr. Rodchenkov alleges that Prokhorov bribed biathlete Irina Starykh to keep quiet about being instructed to inject erythropoietin (EPO) by Stanislav (Statik) Dmitriev. He also alleged that half of the Sochi 2014 biathlon team was under the control of Dmitriev, a ‘well known’ supplier of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), whom he named as the primary source of EPO for the Russian Winter Olympic team.

It appears that Prokhorov is also repaying his debt. It is suspected that he was behind the financing of a defamation lawsuit on behalf of three Russian biathletes against Dr. Rodchenkov. A counter lawsuit was filed by Dr. Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, who said he believes it to be an attempt to discover his location (he is currently under the US Witness Protection Programme).

Shortly before the lawsuit was launched, Prokhorov agreed to sell 49% of National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise Brooklyn Nets to Joseph Tsai, a Canadian businessman. This was shortly after the US Department of Justice (DoJ) launched an indictment against agents of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU). The option  to sell to Tsai was exercised in August 2019, and approved by the NBA in September.

Of course, there is nothing to suggest that Matytsin owes any kind of debt to the Russian State. But given his narrow escape from criminal charges and the similarities of his appointment to the situations described above, he presents an interesting choice as Russia’s new Minister of Sport.

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