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MOSCOW (AP) — Vitaly Mutko bowed to mounting pressure and stepped down as chairman of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee on Wednesday after being dogged by investigations that highlighted his role in a state-backed doping program.
Alexei Sorokin, the chief executive of the committee, will also assume the chairmanship vacated by Mutko. Sorokin also took Mutko's spot on the FIFA Council this year after he was blocked from seeking re-election due to his promotion to Russian deputy prime minister.
The high-ranking government position ensures Mutko will still retain involvement in logistical planning for the World Cup in June and July.
"Mutko will continue to oversee the preparations of the regions as well as coordinate the construction of the necessary infrastructure," the organizing committee said in a statement that expressed "great regret" over his departure.
Mutko's resignation comes two days after he said he would temporarily step down as president of the Russian Football Union while fighting a lifetime ban from the Olympics.
Investigations by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee alleged Mutko was involved in a state-sponsored doping program during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Mutko, who served as Russia's sports minister during the Winter Olympics, has strongly denied all doping allegations.
The IOC didn't accuse Mutko of being personally involved in doping, but banned him from the Olympics for life, saying he and his ministry bore overall responsibility for "failure to respect" anti-doping rules.
Mutko had been defiant at the World Cup draw in Moscow this month, dismissing calls for him to leave his role as front-man of the tournament.
FIFA, which has faced calls to open disciplinary proceedings against Mutko, did not mention the doping cases in a statement acknowledging the resignation.
"FIFA thanks Mr. Mutko for his invaluable contribution to the preparations for the competition so far," the governing body said. "FIFA will continue to work in close collaboration with the LOC (local organizing committee) under its new leadership as well as with the Russian government, the Russian Football Union and the host cities with the aim to deliver an exceptional event in June and July."
Russia opens the World Cup against Saudi Arabia on June 14 in Moscow where the final will be staged on July 15.
"The change in the leadership ... will not affect the preparation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup," local organizers said.
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.
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