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On Eve of World Cup Opener, FIS Doping Panel Releases Statement

On Thursday, the International Ski Federation (FIS) Doping Panel released the following statement regarding the cases of the six Russian skiers sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee earlier this month. As it stands, the six athletes are able to compete in FIS-sanctioned races (but not the Olympics, which is the IOC’s jurisdiction). The FIS World Cup begins this Friday with the Ruka Triple mini tour in Kuusamo, Finland.

Below is the full press release:

“The IOC Disciplinary Commission recently issued its decisions (operative part) in the cases against Cross-Country skiers Alexander Legkov, Evgeniy Belov, Julia Ivanova, Evgenia Shapovalova, Alexey Petukhov and Maxim Vylegzhanin on 1 and 9 November. The commission has sanctioned them with disqualification from the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and non-eligibility for future editions of the Games.

The IOC’s jurisdiction is restricted to the Olympic Games and in its decision the IOC Disciplinary Commission has mandated FIS “to modify the results of the above-mentioned events accordingly and to consider any further action within its own competence.” It is therefore the role of the International Ski Federation (FIS) to determine the consequences for the period outside the Games including the FIS World Cup and other FIS competitions.

These six athletes have previously been subject to a provisional suspension by the FIS Doping Panel as from 23 December 2016, a measure which was confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), although limited until 31 October 2017 by the CAS decision.

Based on the CAS decision that the provisional sanctions were valid only until 31 October and its ruling stated the continuation or a new suspension is subject to a specific allegation of an anti-doping rule violation with corresponding evidence, according to legal procedures it is not possible and would be a contradiction of the CAS Award for the FIS Doping Panel to re-issue provisional suspensions on the basis of these operative decisions of the IOC Disciplinary Commission only, which are not recognised as evidence in themselves.

Consequently, the FIS Doping Panel is obliged to wait until the IOC Disciplinary Commission reasoned decisions are submitted with details of the evidence relied on, before it can take further actions with the cases. The additional investigations that have been carried out by FIS since December 2016, including examinations of previous testing and interviews with support personnel, have not produced sufficient evidence to open anti-doping rule violation cases.

The procedures of the FIS Doping Panel take into consideration to the greatest extent possible the fact that the FIS Cross-Country World Cup season begins on 24th November 2017, but it is not possible for the FIS Doping Panel to undertake actions, which do not respect the FIS Anti-Doping Rules that are compiled in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

As a consequence the active athletes are eligible to compete in FIS including World Cup competitions for the time being.

In response to other athletes’ obvious concerns about competing against potentially doped athletes, FIS can hereby confirm that the Russian Cross-Country Ski Association has implemented an independent anti-doping testing programme covering all Russian international level athletes, which since June 2017 additionally includes those who are outside the FIS Registered Testing Pool..

The anti-doping testing is outwith the hands of the Russian authorities for all international level athletes. Testing is carried out by a European independent specialist sample collection agency with the analysis of the samples carried out at the WADA accredited laboratories in Barcelona (ESP), Cologne (GER), Kreischa (GER), Stockholm (SWE) and Lausanne (SUI). Test distribution planning has been undertaken by the FIS Anti-Doping Expert in consultation with other independent specialists and the results management is handled directly by the FIS Anti-Doping department, with all results shared simultaneously with WADA. The Russian Ski Association has appointed a contact person in each discipline sub-association for anti-doping issues who has been trained by the FIS appointed anti-doping service agency to provide daily anti-doping support to their athletes.

Testing Statistics of FIS Testing on Russian Cross-Country athletes since June 2017 (these numbers do not include testing under the authority of National Anti-Doping Agencies):

Urine: 113
Blood: 25
ABP Blood: 121

FIS cannot issue any further information about the status of these cases until the FIS Doping Panel has undertaken further procedures in view of the right of confidentiality.

FIS Statement on Provisional Suspensions of Six Russian Cross Country Skiers
Decision on appeals of Russian Cross Country athletes
Decision on appeals of Russian Cross Country athletes Belov and Legkov
IOC Disciplinary Commission Decisions in cases of two Russian Cross Country Athletes
CAS decision on Six Russian Cross Country Athletes

Legkov Speaks Out: ‘My Medal is Clean’

Russia’s Alexander Legkov (3) winning the 50 k freestyle mass start at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, ahead of his teammates Maxim Vylegzhanin (not shown) and Ilya Chernousov (r). Last week, the IOC ruled that Legkov violated anti-doping rules in Sochi and was to return his medals (including a relay silver) and serve a lifetime ban from future Olympics.

Alexander Legkov went public yesterday, slightly less than a week after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled that he had doped at the 2014 Olympics, thus voiding his results there (including two medals) and banning him from any Olympics moving forward.

On his Instagram page, several paragraphs of text (in English) accompanied a photo of Legkov, a Russian cross-country skier, holding his individual gold and relay silver medal from Sochi. Similar text appeared on his lawyers’ website, titled “Personal Statement by Alexander Legkov on the Decision of the IOC”.

“It took me a long time to find words to describe what I feel,” Legkov, 34, began. “A few days ago, the IOC Oswald Disciplinary Commission decided to take away my medals, which I had won in Sochi 2014, and to impose on me and my teammate Evgeniy Belov a lifelong ban from the Olympic Games. The last few days I said nothing to media, my fans and all the other athletes because I was shocked – not only because of the decision on the matter, but also because of the circumstances. I do not want to apologize and I do not want to defend myself, but explain.”

In his nearly 800-word statement, Legkov went on to describe the mutual respect he established with competitors over the years, the kind of respect that “forbids you from cheating,” he wrote.

He claimed to have tested clean more than 150 times “in recent years”, 19 of which were in the months leading up to the Sochi Olympics while training with his Swiss and German coaches in Europe.

“In the months before Sochi, the time when the IOC accused me of having prepared myself with the so-called ‘cocktail’, I remained without interruption in Europe, not in Russia, and was tested 19 times again closely, in Lausanne, Cologne and Dresden,” Legkov wrote. “All substances from which the so-called ‘cocktail’ was developed are known. It was not an extraordinary designer drug. The substances were part of the standard test routine. If I had tried to use the cocktail, I would have been discovered.”

In its decision, the IOC stated that Legkov and his teammate Evgeniy Belov violated Article 2 of the anti-doping rules, but Legkov (and his lawyer) have argued that the IOC has not come up with any basis or evidence to support that.

“Until today, I or my lawyer has not been presented with a testimony in which a person claims that she or he would have offered me to take doping or claims that he or she had taken clean urine from me in an irregular procedure. Not even Prof McLaren claimed this from a single athlete,” he stated, referencing the colossal McClaren report from which the IOC’s ruling stemmed.

Legkov also posed a question to his peers: “I want to ask myself, my teammates, my opponents and all the other athletes: if this does not prove anything and does not protect us from a diffuse suspicion, why do we do this? We are all forced to submit to a sanction procedure from which none of us can be sure that it is fair and free of other interests. Every athlete no matter of which nation can come in the same situation.

“The only thing what I want is to be treated fairly, to have independent arbitrators within a fair procedure ruled by law,” he continued. “Either at Court of Arbitration for Sport, or at Swiss Federal Court or the European High Court. Instead, they sanctioned me.”

“I am Alexander Gennadjewitsch Legkov, Cross Country Skier, Winner of the Gold Medal in 50km mass start at Olympic Games 2014 in Sochi and my medal is clean,” he concluded. “I stand upright and fight.”

Last week, the Russian ski federation stated it would appeal the IOC decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The IOC has yet to decide whether it will allow Russian athletes to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, but plans to do so at its executive board meeting next month.

It took me a long time to find words to describe what I feel. A few days ago, the IOC Oswald Disciplinary Commission decided to take away my medals, which I had won in Sochi 2014, and to impose on me and my teammate Evgeniy Belov a lifelong ban from the Olympic Games. The last few days I said nothing to media, my fans and all the other athletes because I was shocked – not only because of the decision on the matter, but also because of the circumstances. I do not want to apologize and I do not want to defend myself, but explain. For 20 years, I have been arranging all of this to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. Every athlete has this dream. We all, my opponents from all over the world and I, we worked hard every day. Year after year we met. We have measured ourselves in many competitions and in many training camps during the year. I know what you've done and you know what I've done. I was happy that I had your respect and you have my respect. This respect forbids you from cheating. In recent years I have been tested more than 150 times clean. Not tested in Moscow or Sochi because I was abroad, but in Cologne, Lausanne and Dresden. 2013 I won the Tour de Ski and was tested clean. On 20 March 2013 I won the 50km mass start race in Oslo and we had the same finish there as in Sochi 2014 and I was then tested clean in Europe. I know and my opponents know that I can win a clean race, and I know that they can win a clean race. Since 2011, I have been preparing myself with a team of coaches from Switzerland and Germany. I am very grateful that they supported me and still trust me. Only with their support could I reach my goals. The years before 2014 I spent most of a year with you in Switzerland and in Europe. In Moscow, where my home is, I only spent a short time on visits. All my opponents and teammates know that. In the months before Sochi, the time when the IOC accused me of having prepared myself with the so-called "cocktail", I remained without interruption in Europe, not in Russia, and was tested 19 times again closely, in Lausanne, Cologne and Dresden. All substances from which the so-called "cocktail" was developed are known. It was not an extraordinary 👇

A post shared by Alexander Legkov (@alexanderlegkov) on

WADA Dismisses Cases of 95 Russian Athletes

The WADA Independent Commission (l-r) Richard McLaren, Dick Pound and Gunter Younger prepare to discuss the findings of the first part of their report in November 2015. (Photo: FasterSkier)

Earlier this week, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) dismissed the cases of 95 out of the first 96 Russian athletes it investigated as a result of the McLaren report, citing “insufficient evidence” of their alleged doping at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The New York Times broke the news on Tuesday, Sept. 12, and published an excerpt from a WADA internal report that circulated among its executives regarding the Russian doping scandal.

Since early May, WADA claims to have reviewed all of the evidence and names that stemmed the McLaren report, starting with the first 96 athletes implicated from nine different sports. As a result, WADA decided to clear all but one of the athletes of anti-doping rule violations (ADRV), stating that the International Federations that govern each sport “determined there was insufficient evidence to support the assertion of an ADRV against these 95 athletes.”

The report did not identify any of the 96 athletes by name.

It went on to state that the unavailability of Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, “an important witness”, as a reason for dismissing these cases. Rodchenkov is currently under a federal witness protection program in the United States. His lawyer claimed he would have cooperated with the investigations if asked.

“Dr. Rodchenkov’s alleged unavailability has been cited as one of the reasons for the closure of the investigations of individual athletes,” his lawyer, Jim Walden, wrote in a letter to WADA on Sunday, which was obtained by The Times. “Dr. Rodchenkov has been willing to cooperate.”

Walden noted that only an Olympic investigator rather than any sport-specific officials (from International Federations) had requested an interview with Rodchenkov.

“The system was very well organized,” WADA Director General Olivier Niggli, who penned WADA’s internal report, said of Russia’s state-sponsored cheating in an interview with The Times. “On top if it, years after the fact, the remaining evidence is often very limited.”

Richard McLaren, who led the WADA-commissioned investigation into Russian cheating over the years, implied that it would be difficult to prosecute more than 1,000 athletes  involved because of Russia’s lack of cooperation in providing lab data and the destruction of evidence — specifically urine samples — at the 2014 Olympics.

Moving forward, WADA advised International Federations pushing for further investigation to tread carefully.

“Unofficially, certain International Federations (IFs) have informed WADA that they intend to bring some of their cases forward…,” WADA noted. “… leading with a weak case or poorly prepared case could negatively affect the outcome of other cases. WADA is monitoring this closely and is in regular contact with these IFs.”

Ultimately, these IFs, or individual sport governing bodies, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), will be left with the task of sanctioning athletes — or not sanctioning them. Still, WADA’s stance can be influential, and as the anti-doping regulator, it has the power to appeal cases.

Niggli emphasized that investigations into other athletes were ongoing “and that officials needed to pursue the strongest cases first so that they would stand up against the inevitable legal challenges in world sport’s arbitration court,” The Times reported.

“It’s absolutely in line with the process, and frankly, it’s nothing unexpected,” Niggli told The Associated Press on Wednesday at meetings of the IOC. “The first ones were the quickest to be dealt with, because they’re the ones with the least evidence.”

Yet as WADA goes down the list, it won’t necessarily get easier.

“There are a thousand names, and for a number of them, the only thing McLaren’s got is a name on a list,” Niggli explained. “If you can prosecute an athlete with a name on a list, perfect. But this is not the reality. There were thousands of samples destroyed in Moscow.”

The IOC, which has two committees reviewing Russia’s individual cases and widespread doping program, is expected to deliver interim reports at its meetings later this week.

One day after the news of WADA’s dropped cases, 16 national anti-doping organizations demanded that Russia be banned from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was among them (along with representatives from Austria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), and took part in two days of meetings in Denver, Colo. On Sept. 14, they collectively released a statement, signed the “National Anti-Doping Organization” (NADO).

“The IOC needs to stop kicking the can down the road and immediately issue meaningful consequences,” NADO stated. “The failure to expeditiously investigate individual Russian athlete doping poses a clear and present danger for clean athletes worldwide and at the 2018 Winter Games. We have serious doubts that the 2018 Games will be clean due to the incomplete investigation of massive evidence of individual doping by Russians athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and given the inadequate testing evidence of Russian athletes over the past four years.”

NADO said it would support allowing some Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag, if they are cleared, but wants Russia as a whole banned until the McLaren report findings are entirely flushed out. It outlined steps for Russia to regain eligibility “following the 2018 Winter Games,” which include 1) accepting the McLaren report or providing “credible proof to refute it”, 2) “a systematic effort” to interview the athletes, officials and other witnesses implicated by the report, and 3) allowing “access to samples from the Moscow Laboratory, turning over electronic data, including servers, testing instrument data files, computer files, and email and text message archives from the time period of the Russian conspiracy, as outlined in the McLaren Report.

“The IOC and WADA must insist that Russia turn over this key additional evidence,” NADO continued. “The failure to properly investigate and prosecute free of sport-political influence those who violated anti-doping rules, breaks the trust with millions of clean athletes around the world. This dereliction of duty sends a cynical message that those of favored, insider nations within the Olympic Movement will never be punished or held accountable, violating the fundamental covenant of fairness on which sport is based.”

Norwegian Student Seeks ‘Athlete Transgression’ Survey Participants

A Norwegian postgraduate student is seeking participants for a short survey on personal opinions of Norwegian skier Therese Johaug and Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova and their anti-doping violations (Johaug tested positive for clostebol last fall and is serving a 13-month suspension, which is still under review by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Sharapova tested positive for meldonium in January 2016 and served a 15-month suspension.)

The student is writing his master thesis on the topic of athlete transgression. “My project revolves around the similar doping cases of cross-country skier Therese Johaug and tennis player Maria Sharapova,” he explains. “More specifically about fans’ attitude towards the athletes and their sponsors after the scandal was made public. … It is hoped that the project could provide useful information for sport managers, sponsors and academics about the impact of scandals related to endorsed athletes.”

The survey includes 22 questions and takes approximately five minutes.

https://coventry.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/athlete-transgression

On Eve of World Championships, CAS Rejects Russian Athletes’ Appeals

On Tuesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced it rejected the appeals of five Russian cross-country skiers — Alexey Petukhov, Evgenia Shapovalova, Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexander Legkov and Evgeniy Belov — regarding their provisional suspensions handed down by the International Ski Federation (FIS) Doping Panel on Jan. 25 and Feb. 6.

The five athletes had appealed in hopes of competing at 2017 FIS Nordic World Championships in Lahti, Finland, which start in earnest on Thursday.

In Dec. 22, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) opened investigations against those athletes based on evidence of urine-sample tampering or sample manipulation during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, information that came from the second McLaren report. That same day, the FIS Doping Panel issued provisional suspensions for those athletes, and those suspensions were confirmed Jan. 25 and Feb. 6.

“The decisions issued today are given in response to requests for provisional measures filed during the course of the athletes’ appeal arbitration procedures before the CAS,” a CAS press release stated. “The arbitration procedures are still ongoing and the parties are currently exchanging written submissions and the process of appointing the arbitrators who will decide the matters is underway. At this early stage of the proceedings, it is not possible to determine when the final decisions will be issued.”

IBU Suspends Russia’s Glazyrina

On Friday, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) announced the immediate provisional suspension of Russian biathlete Ekaterina Glazyrina as an outcome of the McLaren report investigation.

Glazyrina, 29, recently raced at the IBU World Cup in Antholz, Italy, where she placed fifth in the women’s relay. Her best individual result this season was 12th in the World Cup pursuit in Pokljuka, Slovenia.

“Following the publication of the McLaren Report – Part II on 9 December, the IBU established a working group to evaluate the Report and study the available documents,” an IBU press release stated. “It initiated specific follow-up actions in order to get more data with regard to the alleged anti-doping rule violations.”

After collecting additional information and documentation, the working group decided that “an optional provisional suspension” should be implemented with regards to Glazyrina considering “several samples of the athlete may have contained prohibited substances and doping controls conducted by RUSADA may have been tampered, without limitation by manipulation of sample(s).”

The IBU Executive Board met Friday and supported that proposal, deciding to provisionally suspend Glazyrina starting immediately, Feb. 10, “pending the IBU determination of whether or not the athlete has committed an anti-doping Rule violation.”

Glazyrina and the Russian Biathlon Union were informed of the suspension, and she has the opportunity for a provisional hearing. This news comes on the second day of IBU World Championships before the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint takes place this afternoon (8:45 a.m. EST) in Austria.

IBU Congress Rejects 8-Year Ban Proposal, Will Select New 2021 World Champs Host

On Wednesday, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) held what was dubbed an “Extraordinary Congress” in Fieberbrunn, Austria, where congress delegates from 46 IBU member federations voted on the three proposals from the athlete’s letter of January 13, 2017. Those proposals were:

  1. Longer bans (up to 8 years) for athletes convicted of anti-doping rule violations;
  2. Higher fines (up to 1,000,000 €) for member federations with athletes convicted of anti-doping offenses;
  3. Reduction of seasonal start quotas at World Cup, World Championship, and Olympic Winter Games competitions for member federations with one or more athlete anti-doping offenses

According to a press release, “The Congress supported the athlete’s initiative for have stronger Anti-Doping Rules and harsher disciplinary sanctions on member federations, duly taking note of the WADA letter of 27th January, 2017.

Prior to voting on the eight-year ban proposal, delegates received a WADA-issued letter from January 27, 2017, stating that ‘in order to comply with the mandatory requirements of the Code, IBU cannot amend its Anti-Doping Rules in a manner that would permit imposing sanctions that are stricter than those foreseen by the Code’.

Based on this recommendation, the Congress rejected the proposal on an eight-year ban to avoid non-compliance with the WADA Code.

Regarding the proposals on stricter anti-doping rules towards member federations, the Congress tasked the EB to set up a working group to draft amendments to the Disciplinary Rules with significantly higher fines for national federations and a reduction of seasonal start quotas for breaching the Anti-Doping Rules. It will implement these before the season 2017/2018. The next Congress will confirm these rules.

Regarding IBU World Championships Biathlon 2021, the Congress voted against adding the vote to its agenda regarding the withdrawal of the event from Tyumen/RUS. Therefore, the Executive Board took the responsibility to invite the Russian Biathlon Union to return the IBU WCH 2021 until 24th February 24, 2017. Otherwise, the EB has decided to annul the award of the IBU WCH 2021 to Tyumen/RUS.

The host for the IBU WCH 2021 will be selected at the 2018 IBU Congress.”

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

IBU Delays Action on Athletes’ ‘Doping Letter’

The International Biathlon Union (IBU) Executive Board met in Antholz, Italy, today to discuss the organization’s ongoing response to the Russian doping scandal.

Among the agenda items was a letter signed by 170 top biathletes urging the IBU to consider longer bans for doping offenses, a reduction of World Cup quota spots for countries with multiple offenses, and bigger fines for breaking the rules.

The IBU took no direct action on these suggestions.

“The proposals from the athletes’ letter, received on January 13th 2017, are appreciated and taken seriously. The proposals are now forwarded to the Legal Committee in order to draft proposals to the Executive Board for future rule amendments to be tabled at the next Congress,” the IBU wrote in a press release.

This did not sit well with the athletes.

We do not accept a half-year wait until Congress might do something,” Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the winningest biathlete of all time, told Norway’s TV2. “We want a clean World Championships in a few weeks. So we must have a reaction from the IBU now.”

The athletes sent the International Biathlon Union a very clear message, but no action was taken,” Darya Domracheva – the Belarusian Olympic triple gold medalist, IBU athlete representative, and Bjørndalen’s wife – told Russian media. “There was no action taken, and the athletes were left somewhat disappointed. Perhaps the International Biathlon Union still will take some steps. But if I have to wait another year and a half until the next Congress, I think we, the athletes, will get together and think about what actions we will take on our side.”

But some had perhaps been expecting it.

“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 last week.

The press release did note that an Extraordinary Congress could be convened, if it was deemed necessary before the next regularly scheduled Congress in 2018.

The IBU did take several actions, as noted in the press release:

  • Seven new investigations will be opened into athletes mentioned in the McLaren report. It is not clear whether these athletes are suspended while the investigations take place. IBU President Anders Besseberg apparently demurred when specifically asked this question by a journalist at his press conference, saying only that there were seven athletes and the names were not important. In addition, there’s no information about how the seven were chosen. FasterSkier’s deep dive into the McLaren report evidence found discussion of 13 positive doping tests by 11 athletes, none of whom were Vilukhina or Romanova.
  • There will be no investigation into 22 other athletes mentioned in the McLaren report: “There is no sufficient evidence for the other athletes for the time being,” the press release states. As mentioned above, this does not correspond with the number of biathletes specifically mentioned in the McLaren report evidence.
  • All Russian athletes competing at any IBU event will be added to the Registered Testing Pool for drug testing.
  • The IBU is opening a formal investigation into the Russian Biathlon Union, specifically to determine whether they had any knowledge of doping by the seven athletes who are under investigation. This has a deadline of February 9th; the Executive Board will meet again before the beginning of 2017 World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria.
  • The IBU will request to the International Olympic Committee that all anti-doping samples from the 2014 Olympics belonging to athletes who are still competing, be opened and re-tested.

“Most importantly, our athletes will continue to compete in World Cup event,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko told TASS. “The Russian Biathlon Union and anti-doping services have made great effort to make Russian biathlon clean of doping and bring it in line with international standards.”

“It’s OK,” Russian Biathlon Union President Aleksandr Kravtsov separately told the TASS news agency. “There is no talking about Russian biathlon team’s suspension and the team will go on with the competitions.”

-Chelsea Little

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, Italy, in 2015.

As a result, Sundby’s urine samples from the two races in question both had over 1,300 ng/mL of salbutamol, well over the WADA limit of 1,000 ng/mL. That limit, which WADA considers “not to be an intended therapeutic use of the substance”, is unchanged in the 2017 Prohibited List.

The Norwegian national team apparently also prescribed asthma medication to healthy athletes. The medications are allowable up to a certain dose, but high doses are prohibited.

WADA’s Senior Manager of Media Relations, Ben Nichols, told Norway’s NRK broadcaster that while taking such drugs without a diagnosis of asthma was not against anti-doping rules, WADA considered it “inappropriate”.

So perhaps not surprisingly, asthma medications are under scrutiny. The use of multiple beta-2 agonists at the same time was added to the “Monitoring List”, meaning that WADA wishes to track the practice and may add it to a future Prohibited List. The metabolic modulator meldonium, for example, was included on the Monitoring List before being moved to the 2016 Prohibited List. Over 100 athletes subsequently had positive tests.

All the beta-2 agonists can still be used with an approved Therapeutic Use Exemption.

The 2017 Prohibited List also includes changes to the listings of some anabolic steroids, growth factors, and metabolic modulators, stimulants, and narcotics.

“It is vital that all athletes take the necessary time to consult the List; and that, they contact their respective anti-doping organizations (ADOs) if they have any doubts as to the status of a substance or method,” WADA Director General Olivier Niggli said in a press release.

The WADA code now explicitly allows the use of inhaled oxygen, something which has been discussed in the cross-country ski world as it has been used extensively by teams such as Finland.

“Supplemental oxygen administered by inhalation, but not intravenously, is permitted. To clarify this, M1.2 now reads ‘excluding supplemental oxygen by inhalation’,” WADA wrote in their guideline document.

–Chelsea Little

Sundby Decides Against Doping Appeal

An elated Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway crosses the finish line at the top of Alpe Cermis to wrap up his second consecutive Tour de Ski title in Val di Fiemme, Italy, in 2015. He lost that title for a doping violation. (Photo: (Photo: Val di Fiemme/www.fiemmeworldcup.com)

An elated Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway crosses the finish line at the top of Alpe Cermis to wrap up his second consecutive Tour de Ski title in Val di Fiemme, Italy, in 2015. He lost that title for a doping violation. (Photo: (Photo: Val di Fiemme/www.fiemmeworldcup.com)

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 out longer.

It is unclear whether he also faced pressure from his own country. The Norwegian Ski Federation publicly backed him, as their team doctor had prescribed the asthma medication and the federation believed that in doing so, no rules were broken.

But 2014 Olympic slalom medalist Henrik Kristofferson recently told NRK that he found the rampant use of asthma medication by his country’s cross-country skiers “comical” and that Norway should clean up their own house before pointing fingers at Russia or Finland over doping allegations.

Then, Norwegian Minister of Culture Linda Hofstad Helleland, in supporting the work of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), said that Sundby’s case was proof that the system worked.

“If someone is in a gray area, then it has to be taken seriously,” she told VG. “It cannot be trivialized.”

Sundby’s sentence was clear, she said, and “then we have to deal with it.”

Sundby has now finished his suspension, but the lasting mark on his resumé will be nullified results from two competitions, which ultimately cost him the 2015 Tour de Ski and overall World Cup titles.

–Chelsea Little

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 myself who have been there and done it and still have a love for the sport, to see how it’s being mistreated, we’re trying to speak out.

“There’s a lot of stuff to clean up in regards to where the medals are, where the money is and how are they [the IOC and FIS] going to get this taken care of with the clean athletes?” he continued.

The survey is three yes-or-no questions with the opportunity to write in comments. Upon submission, it requests a name with the option to include email, location and sport/club as well.

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 into how long the drug stays in the human body. WADA has been undertaking a more complete research effort to determine whether those athletes’ claims are valid.

WADA has not released results of their studies, but the organization says that based on initial findings it has revised its estimates upwards. In April, a directive suggested that athletes with concentrations lower than 1 μg /mL up through the end of February could receive a “no fault” judgement. This released several athletes, including two biathletes and a cross-country skier, from their provisional suspensions.

In Thursday’s posting, WADA revised that limit up to 5 μg /mL, and applied the 1 μg /mL limit all the way through September 30. In both cases, WADA wrote that a no-fault finding could be made “In the absence of other evidence of use on or after 1 January 2016,” seemingly leaving it up to the individual sports federations adjudicating the cases to either take the athletes at their words, or else to find a way to investigate the timing of their drug use.

The previous pilot studies had shown that meldonium excretion after a manufacturer-recommended dose of meldonium quickly dropped below 1 5 μg /mL.

WADA also wrote that if there was no other evidence of using the drug after September 29, 2016, when it was announced that meldonium would be added to the Prohibited List, an athlete’s results should not be disqualified – and if they had been already, then those results could be reinstated.

Likely dozens more athletes may now hope for a return to competition, among them professional boxer Alexander Povetkin, whose team already celebrated the new guidelines as vindication even though he was never mentioned by name.

WADA released the update with little fanfare. There have been no comments from media personnel or leadership; the document was not posted on the organization’s social media; nor is it posted to the landing page of their website.

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 said that if any athletes met their stringent criteria, they would not be competing for Russia but instead as neutral athletes. That meant that even if they had success, there would never be a Russian gold medal in track and field from Rio.

While reiterating time and time again that the IOC had supported the IAAF’s decision, President Bach backtracked on that last decision, saying that if any Russian athletes went to Rio for track and field, that they would have to compete under the Russian flag.

His assertion was that there is no such thing as a neutral athlete. However, in the past athletes have competed under the Olympic flag. In London 2012, for instance, Guar Marial, a Sudanese runner who fled to Concord, N.H., as a child but never achieved citizenship and did not wish to compete for Sudan, competed under the Olympic flag.

So did three athletes from the Netherlands Antilles, a group of islands which formerly had their own Olympic Committee but lost it when the country dissolved in 2010. In 2014, an Indian luger competed under the Olympic flag in Sochi after the Indian Olympic Committee was suspended by the IOC. Back in 2000, athletes from East Timor did the same thing when their country gained independence from Indonesia and did not yet have the infrastructure to support an Olympic Committee.

Such political issues were the only reasons an athlete should compete under the Olympic flag, Bach suggested, stating that since the Russian Olympic Committee was in good standing, all Russian athletes at the Games should compete for that organization.

“The Summit also recognized, after having studied and being informed of the [IAAF] Task Force report, that the Russian Olympic Committee is mentioned in a very positive way for their work,” he said.

However, the summit also called for greater scrutiny of Russian athletes outside of track and field, as well as of athletes from Kenya, a country which has been declared noncompliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

While the IAAF had announced its own intentions to carefully vet each potential Russian participant, the IOC Summit called on other international federations to essentially develop similar procedures.

“Because of the WADA non-compliance declaration of Kenya and Russia and the related substantial allegations, the Olympic Summit considers the ‘presumption of innocence’ of athletes from these countries being put seriously into question,” the declaration stated. “As a result, every IF [international federation] should take a decision on the eligibility of such athletes on an individual basis to ensure a level playing field in their sport. In this decision-making process, the absence of a positive national anti-doping test should not be considered sufficient by the IFs. This means that the respective IF should take into account other reliable adequate testing systems in addition to national anti-doping testing. This decision about the ‘level playing field’ in each of their very different Olympic sports, and eligibility, including of their member National Federations, should be taken by each IF taking into account all the specific circumstances in the relevant National Federations, any available evidence, the World Anti-Doping Code and the specific rules of their sport.”

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).

IBU and FIS shot in ARD documentary

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

Russia's Kirill Vitsjuzjanin (11) leading the pack in Val di Fiemme, Italy. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad.com)

Russia’s Kirill Vitsjuzjanin (11) leading the pack in Val di Fiemme, Italy. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad.com)

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 WADA regarding their use of meldonium: Olga Abramova and Artem Tyshchenko.

On Wednesday, news emerged that Norwegian weightlifter Ruth Kasirye also tested positive for meldonium.