Dr. Jim Carrabre, a former Canadian biathlete who is the International Biathlon Union’s Vice President for Medical Issues, is launching a bid for the federation’s presidency. He is running against Anders Besseberg, a Norwegian who has been President since 1993.
Transparency and good governance are two main themes of Carrabre’s platform, he said in an interview earlier this week from Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he is a partner at a medical clinic.
“We need to bring biathlon into the modern world from a management point of view, and structurally and with transparency and everything else,” Carrabre said.
Carrabre is being supported by Biathlon Canada. National federations must officially nominate any members who run for IBU positions, but according to Biathlon Canada Executive Director Joanne Thomson, her organization’s support for Carrabre’s bid is more than a mere formality.
Carrabre has been a longtime member of Biathlon Canada, beginning as one of its founders and continuing to be “involved in the federation in a number of levels, mostly from the athlete development and coaching side,” Thomson said.
“His interest is, and always has been, in ensuring fairness in the sport,” she explained. “From his position as VP for Medical Issues, he has been a big proponent of antidoping as a fundamental basis for our sport. That says the type of person that he is – one who wants to make sure that there is integrity, fairness, and inclusion to all the federations. I’m not saying that there’s not, currently, but that’s something he would want to continue to do.”
One major issue for Carrabre is how the federation is handling doping cases. A longtime antidoping advocate who has also held positions at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), including overseeing testing in nordic sports for the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee at the 2002 Olympics, Carrabre has become increasingly frustrated at the IBU’s approach.
Two recent examples are an Executive Board decision to discontinue blood testing at the Olympic Games, for which he says he was not consulted; and the slow pace at which sanctions against Russian biathletes Irina Starykh and Ekaterina Iourieva are proceeding. Carrabre claims that others within the federation have been withholding information from him.
“Information is not getting disseminated, things are taking way longer than they should, and I don’t know why,” Carrabre said. “I keep asking for the results back, and I’m being told that the hearing panel is still looking at it. But it’s a straightforward case. A and B samples are confirmed. It should be a slam dunk. The only thing I can think of is that they’re trying to delay a decision on the punishment for Russia for political reasons.”
While antidoping work has been a hallmark of his career, however, it is not the only issue that Carrabre cares about in the world of biathlon. A former Canadian national team member himself, he would like to oversee the further development of the sport globally.
“I’d like to try to make our weaker nations stronger, and even to make our stronger nations stronger,” Carrabre said. “There’s ways we can do this. You look at the FIFA World Cup right now, look at how soccer has expanded. The U.S. team is doing so well when it wasn’t much of a sport here for many years. It’s a so-called weaker nation, and now they’re almost winning their pool. We should see that from a lot of nations in biathlon.”
Thomson believed that this might be a topic of interest to many potential voters at the IBU’s Congress this fall (it is scheduled for Kiev, Ukraine, in September, but the location may change).
“The IBU has done well at expanding it beyond Europe, into Asia and North America,” she explained. “And supporting development into South America… and has done a ton of great work with television and have great relationships with their TV partners. But there’s still work to do for us in North America to get more exposure through TV and increase the culture of the sport, and there are probably other areas of the world that are in the same situation.”
Regardless of the current state of an organization, good or bad, Thompson believes that competition for leadership roles can bring creativity and stimulate discussion of important issues.
Carrabre noted a “complacency” from traditionally strong biathlon nations, and urged that a change of perspective and creative thinking would allow less-traditional teams to succeed – which in turn should push the big teams to get even stronger.
“I was a biathlete before I was a doctor,” Carrabre said. “[People] only know me from my antidoping work, but I’m a founding member of Biathlon Canada. I had one of the first two small-bore rifles that came to Canada, I got one and took it to Western Canada to help develop biathlon. I’ve been involved as an athlete, as a coach, and as an official. I developed the athlete development model in Canada for biathlon. I developed the coaching model. I’m a national-level coach in biathlon. So, you know, I have a lot of understand of the sport from many different areas.”
Carrabre guessed that there would be several main arguments against his run for president. First of all, he has never been a secretary general, a traditional grooming-ground for higher positions. His experience in Biathlon Canada and on the Executive Board ought to be considered, he suggested.
“I know more about the sport than most secretary generals,” he said. “I’ve been in the sport for 30 years.”
Secondly, he was unsure whether Europeans would support a North American presidency, in part because the IBU office is in Salzburg, Austria. In this day and age, however, Carrabre asserted that this should be a non-issue.
“We could move the office to North America,” he said. “No, I’m joking. But look at videoconferencing – I can be on a videoconference in 30 seconds. I can do that daily. You don’t need to be somewhere. And if I have to be there, I can be there within 12 hours. I’m busy, I’m a doctor, but I’m working 3-4 days a week because I’m a senior partner in my group, so I have a lot of flexibility. I can travel when I want to.”
Finally, Carrabre said that he would like to see a different atmosphere on the Executive Board, and that he would work to create this.
“At the Executive Board level, a lot of members have World Cups which depend on IBU, and they’re basically threatened that if they don’t toe the line they’re going to lose that,” he explained. “People have so much self-interest in the way that they vote that it’s not in the best interest of biathlon. Maybe it would be good to try to have a board that’s a little less dependent on the IBU, that has no conflict of interest. That’s not good for the sport.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.