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IBU Reverses Course, Calls for Extraordinary Congress to Discuss Doping (Updated)

After announcing on Saturday that no new policies regarding doping violations could be approved until the next Congress, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) faced widespread outcry from athletes.

“Martin [Fourcade] walked out about 45 minutes into the meeting, as [IBU President] Besseberg answered [Michal) Slesinger’s question, ‘Do you believe this is an urgent situation?'” U.S. athlete Clare Egan explained in an email. “Besseberg essentially said ‘no,’ and repeated that the next Congress (2018) will deal with it. Once Martin left, others quickly followed. It was not planned.”

The IBU Executive Board then met through the night on Saturday, and on Sunday morning came out with a new announcement: an Extraordinary Congress will be held before World Championships to vote on rule changes. The competitions at World Championships begin February 9 in Hochfilzen, Austria, and the Congress seems to be scheduled for the day before.

Among the proposals by the athletes are for longer suspensions after doping violations, larger fines to national federations where doping is a problem, and a reduction of World Cup quota spots for those countries.

The IBU has said that it received a dossier after the McLaren report with information about 31 athletes; FasterSkier has identified 38 biathletes, with 11 of those apparently having a total of 13 unreported positive tests. In addition, two retired athletes, Olga Vilukhina and Iana Romanova, have been suspended because their anti-doping samples from the 2014 Olympics were allegedly tampered with.

The athletes reportedly considered a boycott if the doping scandal was not addressed to their satisfaction.

“I am pissed off,” World Cup leader Martin Fourcade of France told Norway’s NRK broadcaster as he left the Saturday meeting.

Now, the athletes are cautiously hopeful that the IBU is now listening to them.

“Of course I’m not certain on why the IBU decided to change their mind and make an emergency meeting, but I like to think that the athletes response had something to do with it,” U.S. biathlete Maddie Phaneuf wrote in an email. “It’s very obvious that we are not happy with how the IBU has been handling doping situations past and present, we want there to be change now and we want to be confident that our sport is clean. I’m hoping that this meeting will result in some immediate change, especially for our upcoming World Championships.”

“I think this action is definitely in direct response to the reaction from the athletes last night,” teammate Lowell Bailey, an IBU Athlete Representative, agreed. ” The IBU was made aware of how serious the athletes are.  We are now unified with a majority of athletes and coaches in demanding meaningful actions toward strengthening our anti-doping penalties; actions that need to happen now and not in 2018 when the next IBU Congress is scheduled.  I am glad to see that the IBU Executive Board changed their approach, has listened to the athletes, and will now call an extraordinary Congress before World Champs 2017, in order to vote (and hopefully approve) the rules changes we have called for by the time World Championships starts.”

But the athletes are still wary.

“When the McLaren Report first came out, I thought that doping was the greatest threat to our sport,” U.S. biathlete Susan Dunklee wrote in an email. “However after watching the last few weeks play out, I believe that the IBU’s reluctance to meaningfully act to prevent doping is the greatest threat to our sport… It was only after the athletes walked out and threatened a kind of boycott that the Executive Board reconvened and decided to call an Extraordinary Congress before World Championships. That is the kind of meaningful action we need.”

-Chelsea Little; Harald Zimmer and Aleks Tangen contributed

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