In December, Biathlon Canada announced that it would not attend World Cups slated for Tyumen, Russia, in March, due to the doping scandal that has consumed Russian sports. Russia is still not in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code, and, Biathlon Canada stated, “the integrity of anti-doping procedures in Russia is still very much uncertain, given the current situation in which RUSADA remains non-compliant with WADA.”
This caused little reaction from the International Biathlon Union (IBU) at the time.
The United States and the Czech Republic have now also announced their intentions to boycott the event, and other individual high-level athletes also do not plan on attending.
“I am really discouraged by our international federation, the IBU,” Lowell Bailey said after the men’s relay at the Olympics on Friday. “Our President, Anders Besseberg… at every turn when he has the chance to defend clean sport, he has turned the other way. And it’s not fair to clean athletes. The latest decision by the IBU was to send the World Cup tour to Tyumen, Russia, for our World Cup final. Team USA is boycotting. The Czech team is boycotting. Canada is boycotting. We are trying to rally more support. I know that as an Athletes’ Representative, almost every country had athletes that wrote letters to the IBU [about the World Cup final].”
The IBU, however, remains silent, and the Norwegian Biathlon Federation said that it would only skip the event if other “top-15 countries” agreed to as a block, discounting the 8th-ranked Czech men and women, top-15 ranked Canadian men’s and women’s teams, and 14th-ranked American men.
The Czechs know that they will lose Nations Cup points, and possibly World Cup quota spots, by skipping a weekend of racing, but said that it was worth it.
“We have taken a certain stance, with some sacrifices, and it would be wrong to give it up now,” Czech Biathlon Union President Jiří Hamza told iDNES, a Czech news agency, according to a translation.
“If you are convinced something is not right, you should keep that stance,” shooting coach Ondřej Rybář said in the same article. “If the other countries talk about RUSADA being noncompliant and that they should not have international races in Russia, but they eventually go there, that’s their issue. We clearly stated that we do not agree with what is happening in Russia. We therefore want that the work did in the fight against doping isn’t lost.”
And in the meantime, the IBU had apparently received private feedback from athletes who wanted the World Cups to be moved to a Code-compliant country.
“The outcry from our fellow athletes around the world has been respectful, strong, and definitive,” the U.S. biathletes wrote in a joint statement that they each posted to social media platforms (for example, here). “In addition to the dozens who expressed their opinion to the IBU Athletes Commission members ahead of the meeting in January 2018, the IBU received letters representing over 30 athletes, from eight countries, and included three 2018 Olympic Champions… ”
The federation ignored that feedback, deciding ten days ago yet again not to move the race.
French star Marie Dorin Habert, a four-time World Championships gold medalist, has announced that she will retire after the World Cup weekend in Oslo – which by definition means that she won’t be going to the final weekend of competition in Russia.
Teammate Martin Fourcade, however, reportedly will attend the races in order to fight for the World Cup crystal globe, which he currently leads by just 54 points over Johannes Thingnes Bø of Norway.
“My position on doping and on Russians who have cheated is clear, but my position on Russia is different,” he said, according to the German Press Agency via a translation. “The country is a fan of biathlon, and I think the Russian public should not be eternally punished for the actions of some of its officials and athletes.”
Sebastian Samuelsson, a Swede who won silver in the Olympic pursuit and then gold in the relay, also expressed his dissatisfaction with the IBU’s handling of the situation.
“Hugely disappointed with the [IBU] decision today to, despite considerable pressure, to keep the [World Cup] in Russia,” he tweeted, according to a translation.
Samuelsson was rewarded with numerous twitter replies from Russian accounts telling him to stay home, one of which called him a baby and another of which said he was “not welcome in Russia”. He was then attacked on Instagram, with obscenity-filled threats and more sober ones, like, “your whole family will die.”
And that’s something that the Americans mentioned in their open letter explaining why they wouldn’t be traveling to Russia: safety.
“I’ve got online threats because of things I’ve said,” Canada’s Rosanna Crawford told Norwegian broadcaster NRK after the Canadians announced their boycott in December. “There are people who say they can’t wait until I come to Russia, ‘we’ll see what happens to you then’.”
It’s something the Czechs are intimately familiar with, too. After their 2014 women’s relay team celebrated being awarded Olympic bronze after the Russian relay team was disqualified for doping – several relay members’ cases are now pending at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – they were attacked as well, with hundreds of comments on social media calling the women “pigs” and “prostitutes” and threatened that if they did come to Russia, their anti-doping samples would be sabotaged.
And indeed, the first comment on U.S. biathlete Susan Dunklee’s Instagram post announcing the boycott was sexually-explicit and degrading insult, the only part of which can be written on a family-friendly website was the part calling her “ugly”. More obscenity-laden comments followed.
“Thank God the Americans won’t come!” another commenter wrote. “If you came to us, I’d throw you tomatoes.”
“You’re not an athlete,” added a third.
“American coward,” mocked another.
Bailey did not post about the boycott on Instagram, but commenters went there anyway, flocking to his most recent post – from nearly a year ago – to call him a doper.
“… the protection of clean athletes and the fight against doping are of the highest priority,” the IBU wrote in a September press release regarding the Russian doping investigation.
But when it comes to online threats against the athletes competing in their sport, the federation has so far been silent.
In response to Canada’s boycott announcement in December, Anders Besseberg said, “It’s not mandatory for anyone to attend, let’s put it that way.”
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.