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The State of Doping in Biathlon Ahead of Saturday’s Executive Board Meeting

On Saturday, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Executive Board will hold a meeting in Antholz, Italy, to discuss their ongoing response to the McLaren report.

That report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, contained references to at least 38 biathletes. Of those, several were Olympians; 13 positive doping tests were disclosed which apparently never resulted in suspensions; and seven samples from the 2014 Olympics showed signs of being tampered with.

The IBU formed a working group to sift through the evidence and address concerns.

To date, however, only two biathletes have been provisionally suspended. They are Iana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina, medalists from Sochi who had since retired – which begs the question of what a provisional suspension even means.

“I am sure that all my doping samples are clean and I have nothing to hide,” Romanova said in an interview with Russian news agency TASS. She has not competed since the 2014-2015 season.

IBU President Anders Besseberg said in a January press conference that the evidence was not strong enough to lead to suspensions.

“It was very clear to the Executive Board that here we need to have expertise, help from experts,” he said. “Because the report itself is not telling us that here we are having evidences, we are having proof, we are having a lot of positive doping cases. That’s not the fact of the report. We need a lot of other evidence on the table.”

As mentioned above, the report’s evidence packet shows that there are at least 13 positive doping cases in biathlon. None of them belong to the two athletes the IBU has so far provisionally suspended.

Meanwhile, 170 of the world’s top biathletes called for stronger action from the IBU. The group signed a letter delivered to their federation calling for further investigation. The letter has not been made public, but is said to contain requests for greater penalties for doping, the reduction of World Cup quota spots for countries with doping violations, and bigger fines — up to one million Euros for countries with violations.

“As an athlete you ask yourself, why am I updating my whereabouts every day in the ADAMS system, and why am I accessible every day and constantly turn in samples, when in other countries it’s seemingly so easy to swap or open and seal a sample again?” German biathlete Arnd Peiffer told ZDF. “And of course that is completely frustrating, and I hope consequences are drawn from this.”

In a press conference in Oberhof in early January, IBU President Anders Besseberg had suggested that such changes were impossible before 2018.

“I think all of you understand that we the IBU, the Executive board, we had to follow the WADA Code, we have to follow our own statutes and anti-doping rules decided by the [IBU] congress… The Executive Board itself cannot start to change rules straight away… It has already been discussed in IBU that maybe we should, you can say, review our rules not only in this aspect – the proposal which is called me by telephone – but also some other things. And I’m sure that in the Congress in 2018 it will be brought more proposals to the table which the Congress then are deciding upon.”

This is similar language to how Besseberg described the decision to award 2021 World Championships to Tyumen, Russia, despite instruction from the World Anti-Doping Agency not to award any new major events to Russia. Besseberg said that this was all because of the Congress vote and implied he could not have done anything to direct or change the decision.

“I am not the right person to ask,” he said. “It’s the Congress who is the highest authority in the IBU, it is the delegates in the Congress.”

But the athletes indicated that such a timetable would not be acceptable.

“I believe the dumbest thing [the IBU could do] would be to put us off and say ‘we will wait and see, we can’t decide anything yet, this takes some time’,” current World Cup leader Laura Dahlmeier told ZDF. “We want consequent actions now, ideally ahead of the World Championships, in order to show the world that we biathletes are for clean sports, and the IBU fully supports us in that.”

As for the latest uproar, the IBU is inviting athletes to engage with them — via a press conference.

“There will be an official press conference; the teams and athletes have also received an invitation from the IBU to attend and continue with an open dialogue,” the IBU wrote in its press release announcing the Saturday board meeting.

-Chelsea Little & Harald Zimmer

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