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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

WADA Publishes 2017 Prohibited List; Changes to Asthma Rules

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has published its 2017 Prohibited List, to go into effect on January 1. Among the changes from the 2016 Prohibited List is a shift in the language governing the use of salbutamol, an inhaled medication used to treat asthma, and other drugs of its class (called beta-2 agonists). “Dosing parameters of salbutamol were refined to make it clear that the full 24 hour dose should not be administered at one time,” WADA wrote in a guide listing the changes from the 2016 Prohibited List. The new rule keeps the maximum allowable does at 1,600 micrograms over 24 hours, but additionally specifies that only 800 micrograms can be taken in any 12-hour period. Salbutamol is the medication which led to a suspension of Norwegian skier Martin Johnsrud Sundby. Sundby nebulized 15 milligrams — or 15,000 micrograms — of the medication in a five-hour period in Davos, Switzerland, in 2014 and Toblach,…

Sundby Decides Against Doping Appeal

Norwegian cross-country skier Martin Johnsrud Sundby has decided not to appeal a two-month suspension he received for using a high dose of asthma medicine. Sundby’s suspension came from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and he was considering an appeal to the Swiss Supreme Court. It is unusual for sports-related cases which reach the CAS level to be brought into federal courts afterwards. “The important thing for me was to find out if the possibility existed, because I’m not a lawyer and I had no clue,” he told Norway’s NRK broadcaster. He revealed that after consulting with Swiss lawyers, it did not seem like he had a good chance of winning an appeal. Any case he brought to the Swiss Supreme Court would have been based on procedure, not on the facts of the case. Sundby said that he decided against an appeal because he did not wish to drag the process…

Hall, Wood Spearhead ‘Survey for Ethical Sport’ to Present to IOC, FIS

On Monday, a three-question survey called the “Survey for Ethical Sport“, created by Marty Hall and Dave Wood, former head coaches of the Canadian cross-country ski team, went live online with the technical support of national-team skier Julien Locke. The idea behind it, is to “spread the word” and send the results to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Ski Federation (FIS), according to Hall, also a former U.S. national team coach. “We are a group of coaches/athletes that have been directly impacted by cheaters,” the survey states. “We have put together this survey as we believe that everyone’s voice needs to be heard. Sport is in a critical time right now and we are motivated to use our survey findings to make a difference.” “In this whole process if you think about it, do we ever have anything to say, and who’s this all about?” Hall said. “Whether it’s support personnel or people like…

WADA Revises Meldonium Guidelines, Increasing Leniency

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has revised its guidelines for athletes whose urine samples tested positive for the prohibited metabolic modulator meldonium, according to a document posted to the organization’s website on Thursday. The update allows much more leniency for athletes with traces of the drug found in their urine samples until September 30, 2016. It also places the onus on sports federations to determine whether the athletes used the drug before or after it was added to the Prohibited List on January 1. Since then, at least 172 athletes have tested positive for the substance. At that time some, like tennis star Maria Sharapova, did not notice the that the drug was newly classified as banned and continued to use the it. Others claim to have stopped using the drug before January 1, but the substance still showed up in their urine samples. Before this year, little research had been done…

IOC Backtracks on Part of IAAF Decision; No Russian ‘Neutral’ Athletes in Rio

“We have come to a unanimous declaration,” International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday after an Olympic Summit which convened heads of international federations in the Olympic movement. “All the stakeholders have come to the unanimous declaration … the Summit confirmed their respect and approval and support for the decision having been taken by IAAF last Friday.” That decision, by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), would have nearly completely barred Russian track and field athletes from competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Russian athletics have been embroiled in a doping scandal. The international federation decided that only those athletes which could individually prove — “clearly and convincingly” — that they had not doped, for instance because they were living outside of Russia and had been repeatedly tested by an accredited and respected antidoping agency, could compete. And notably, the IAAF…

New Documentary Alleges Russian Interference with FIS, IBU Anti-Doping Efforts (Updated)

A new documentary by German journalist Hajo Seppelt aired on ARD last night, alleging further involvement of Russian officials in hampering anti-doping efforts. While one of the biggest news items was that Russian Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko was personally implicated in hiding a positive doping test by a soccer player, nordic sports were directly mentioned for one of the first times in Seppelt’s work. Specifically, RUSADA allegedly warned head coaches and athletes ahead of doping controls ordered by the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the International Biathlon Union (IBU). FasterSkier has reached out to the federations for comment. The documentary is available here in German and here in English.

Russian Cross-Country Skier Tests Positive for Meldonium

A Russian cross-country skier who placed in the top 30 at Russian nationals last weekend, Kirill Vitsjuzjanin, has tested positive for the banned substance meldonium. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited use of the drug, a metabolic modulator, starting Jan. 1, 2016. Vitsjuzjanin, 23, apparently took meldonium last September based on a prescription from his doctor, Langrenn reports. His father and trainer Petr Vitsjuzjanin said that his son used the substance last year, before it was banned. Earlier this year, he passed a doping test but a sample taken in March was found positive for the substance. “I am shocked,” his father said. “The situation is embarrassing for me.” Vitsjuzjanin has never competed in a World Cup, but placed 22nd and 27th at Russian nationals last weekend in Tyumen. Several Russian athletes have also tested positive for the banned substance, including tennis star Maria Sharapova and skate printer Pavel Kulizjnikov. Two Ukrainian biathletes have open cases with…