In three weeks time, biathlon’s World Cup circuit will move to Russia.
But a number of the sport’s stars won’t be there – and others plan to attend, but aren’t very happy about it.
In an Executive Board session in PyeongChang, South Korea, a few weeks ago, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) decided to go on as planned with World Cup races in Tyumen, Russia, even though the Russian Anti-Doping Agency is still not compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code.
Biathlon Canada had announced in December that it would boycott the event if it was kept in Russia, following revelations of systematic abuse of the anti-doping system by that country. In the intervening months, athletes appealed to the IBU through private channels to move the races to a country which complies with the WADA Code.
After the IBU’s most recent announcement, the United States and Czech Republic have also gone public with boycotts of the event.
Today, 2018 Olympic pursuit silver medalist (and relay gold medalist) Sebastian Samuelsson of Sweden announced on Twitter that he will not go to the races either.
“Nations without a functioning anti-doping organization should not have competitions at the international level,” he wrote, according to a translation. “Also, worried about the safety of both myself and the doping tests in Russia.”
Also not going is Klemen Bauer of Slovenia, a 2012 World Championships relay medalist who is a four-time Olympian.
“I’m not planning to go to Russia at all,” he told FasterSkier in a Twitter exchange. “I was quite sure the IBU will replace the races, but despite all the effort we put into the clean/er biathlon, thanks to the president of the IBU that didn’t happen.”
Both men are running for positions on the IBU’s Athletes Committee.
“The idea is to improve the active role of the athletes and the voice of the athletes,” Bauer wrote of his candidacy. “We’ll see.”
Another man running for a spot on the Committee is Germany’s Erik Lesser, 2014 Olympic silver medalist in the individual, 2015 World Champion in the pursuit, and several-time Olympic and World Championships relay medalist.
Lesser will be attending the races in Tyumen, but he wasn’t happy about the IBU’s decision to hold them there.
“In my opinion the RUSADA and the Russian Federation have not done enough to light up this case,” he wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “During the last years, WADA and some commissions found a bunch of proof about a doping system in Russia. But RUSADA and [the Russian Biathlon Union] did nothing to fight against doping. The Anti-Doping-Laboratory in Moscow still does not have a license, and all the officials are in the same seats. It’s a wrong sign, after these problems, to go to Russia and celebrate World Cup Finals.”
Lesser and teammate Arnd Peiffer, the 2011 World Champion in the sprint who then won gold at the 2018 Olympics, and who has even more World Championships and Olympic relay medals than Lesser, wrote a letter to the IBU explaining their position.
Yet a few weeks ago, the IBU decided to go ahead and hold the World Cup in Tyumen anyway. They issued a press release explaining the decision.
“I‘ve read the press release and I still don‘t understand why they decided this way,” Lesser wrote. “Because it‘s a threat to Russian biathlon fans and the Organizing Committee will take care of our safety? Wow, these are true reasons to keep the World Cup in Tyumen. So, I don‘t really think that reasons are valid.”
Last season, there was also supposed to be a World Cup in Russia. But in 2017, several teams announced that they would boycott the event and IBU President Anders Besseberg had a contentious meeting with athletes, after which the IBU decided to move the event.
This season, despite appeals by athletes like Lesser, Peiffer, and the others, that has not yet happened. And so in the end, Lesser says that he will compete in Tyumen, even though he wishes the races were somewhere else.
“We argued with our federation and we decided to go to Tyumen,” he wrote. “The sport is the first [priority] and we want to compete. We hope that we can do a good job in Russia. We are there to stand as clean athletes.
“It‘s bad that the IBU put us athletes in this position,” he wrote. “Actually it‘s not our job to be political. It‘s our job to be athletes and compete against other. If we don’t go, it’s wrong because it’s our sport we love. [But] if we go to Tyumen, we maybe send the wrong sign to IBU.”
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.