After an Executive Board meeting today to discuss doping in Russia, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) has provisionally suspended two athletes. The federation opened anti-doping investigations into 29 more.
Meanwhile, the Russian Biathlon Union voluntarily gave up their hosting rights for two events: 2017 Youth and Junior World Championships, slated for Ostrov, and a World Cup stage slated for Tyumen.
Two Suspensions from the 30+ Cases
The IOC has jurisdiction over all anti-doping activity at Olympic Games. That means that any samples collected between Jan. 31 and Feb. 22, 2014 which tested positive for banned substances or showed signs of tampering are the responsibility of the IOC rather than a relevant international sports federation like the IBU.
The IBU noted in its press release that the IOC had opened proceedings against two athletes. The press release did not name the two athletes, but noted that the IBU would suspend them.
Meanwhile, Norway’s NRK broadcaster is reporting that the two athletes were medalists in Sochi. That leaves nine possibilities. Evgeny Garanichev won bronze in the 20 k individual, and Olga Vilukhina silver in the 7.5 k sprint. Vilukhina was joined by Olga Zaitseva, Yana Romanova, and Ekaterina Glazyrina for silver in the women’s relay. And Alexey Volkov, Dmitry Malyshko, Evgeny Ustiugov, and Anton Shipulin won gold in the men’s relay.
At least four biathletes appeared to have “protected” status at the 2014 Games, according to evidence files from the McLaren report. One of those athletes, Romanova, had sample bottles with marks that seem to indicating tampering.
In addition, the IBU is opening investigations into 29 more athletes mentioned in the McLaren report.
The IBU will notify both the athletes and the Russian Biathlon Union. Both entities can comment on the allegations. At the same time, a working group formed by the IBU will continue to investigate. Then the working group will decide whether the case needs to be referred to an Anti-Doping Hearing Panel, which will ultimately decide whether suspensions are required.
The IBU noted only that they would set a deadline for receiving comments from the affected athletes. But otherwise, they did not specify a timeframe for the investigations. Because World Cup racing resumes January 5, 2017, in Oberhof, Germany — just 14 days from today — that means that if any of the 29 biathletes are competing on the World Cup, they will likely continue to do so.
Many in Russia, and outside, were pleased with the decision.
“A balanced decision has been taken,” Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko told the TASS news agency. “It gives an opportunity to make conclusions in an unhurried manner, not the ones based on the abstract statements or conclusions of just one person… I’m confident our federation will show the majority of athletes [who misused doping] have already been punished.”
The IBU press release noted that in only one case was an athlete already suspended for the same positive test that was noted in the McLaren report.
The two suspended athletes plus 29 more adds up to 31 athletes. However, FasterSkier identified at least 35 biathletes as appearing in different McLaren report evidence documents.
Several athletes had positive tests explicitly mentioned in different evidence documents. In at least five cases, anti-doping staff reported positive results as negative ones in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s test management database. As a result, the athletes never served suspensions for their violations. One such case occurred at an IBU Cup competition in Ostrov in 2013.
Alexander Tikhonov, a board member of the Russian Biathlon Union and a former Olympic champion, lauded IBU President Anders Besseberg.
“Well, biathlon is not affected,” he told sports.ru. “A positive decision. Besseberg showed that he is our man.”
Russia Gives Up on Hosting Two 2017 Events
Momentum has been growing for an international boycott of biathlon events in Russia. The Czech Republic and Britain led the way by declaring that they would not compete in Russia until the country had a clean bill of health from anti-doping authorities. The Norwegian Biathlon Association expressed support for this position.
Ultimately, such a move will not be necessary. The IBU mentioned in their press release that the Russian Biathlon Union has given up the two events.
“Under the circumstances, [RBU] considers it impossible to conduct the Biathlon World Cup and Junior World Championship, to be held in Tyumen and Ostrov respectively… Determining the place for these activities is up to the IBU,” the Russian Biathlon Union wrote on its website. “The competition should take place in an atmosphere of celebration, and not among suspicions and rumors.”
The IBU has yet to decide where they will be moved to.
“The relocation of both … events will be decided upon later,” the IBU said.
“This is a first important step by the Russian Biathlon Union to show to the IBU and to the world of sport that the current situation is taken very seriously,” Besseberg said, according to the press release. “This will now allow the international biathlon family to focus on biathlon during these events.”
Some in Russia are still upset about the boycott threat.
“These calls for boycotts should entail punishments for athletes,” Mutko told TASS. He elaborated that he thought those advocating for a boycott were in violation of the Olympic Charter.
Some international athletes have also reacted to the decisions.
Punishing the fans instead of real culprits… What a sanction… 👎🏼
— Simon Fourcade (@SimonFrk2) December 22, 2016
— Mari Eder (o.s. Laukkanen) (@edermari_) December 22, 2016
Anna Bogaliy-Titovets, who won relay gold with Russia in 2006 and 2010 and now competes for South Korea, had a more nuanced view.
“If the Executive Bommittee IBU made such a decision it means that its members have a good reason, and evidence of Russian athletes involved in doping,” she told sports.ru. “Depriving the whole team of the right to race in international competitions would be extremely unfair. We must respect the decision in the way the IBU presented it. I do not think this is a conspiracy – the Executive Board consists of representatives from different countries. Severe punishment for no reason would not be possible.”
“The IBU has done a solid job,” Norwegian Biathlon Association President Erlend Slokvik told NRK, according to a translation. “And it is good that Russia withdraws. It’s a signal that they have understood the seriousness of the situation.”
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.