The past year certainly has not been an easy one for the International Biathlon Union (IBU), the governing body in the sport of biathlon for the past 25 years.
The sports federation had to take the unusual measure of suspending the Russian Biathlon Union, historically one of the core countries for biathlon, to a provisional member status.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC)including biathletes, from that nation from participating in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, even though they were still allowed to compete in IBU World Cups before and after.
International athletesin Russia citing the continued non-compliance with anti-doping regulations.
And to make matters worse, the IBU became embroiled in its ownwith longtime President Anders Besseberg and Secretary General Nicole Resch having to step down amid allegations of corruption.
Last weekend, the IBU and its member nations had a chance to set a course for the future at its 13th biennial “regular Congress”, this time held in Poreč, Croatia. The congress brings all the member countries together once every two years to elect an executive board and vote on rules for both competitions themselves and how the federation should operate.
The question was: more of the same, or a new direction?
As the first order of business, the IBU had to find a successor for Besseberg to lead it into the next seasons. Only two candidates clear winner,receiving 39 votes of the delegates to 12 for Broka. He will serve a term of four years.: Olle Dahlin of Sweden, and Baiba Broka of Latvia. In the end Dahlin was the
“Thank you very much for the confidence you showed in me. I am very honored. I will do my utmost together with you to develop the future of biathlon,” the new IBU President Dahlin said in remarks shown of the Congess. “I will be the president of all athletes and all nations,” he vouched, according to an .
As one important voice for these athletes, US Biathlon’s Clare Egan, a 2018 Olympian and since March 2018 the new , welcomed the choice of Dahlin.
“The Congress sent a clear message by electing Dahlin 39:12 and voting in this particular roster of Executive Board members,” Egan wrote in an email to FasterSkier.
US Biathlon Association President and CEO Max Cobb reiterated that message, writing “I am extremely happy Olle Dahlin was elected and I support his vision for the future for IBU.”
Dahlin had already been a member of the IBU Executive Board, and while that gave him prior experience and he was not charged by external authorities in the investigation of the scandal surrounding Besseberg and Resch, his name might not exactly scream “fresh start”.
Broka, meanwhile, is a lawyer and politician from Latvia who serves as President of the Latvian Biathlon Federation and on the Executive Committee of the Latvian Olympic Committee.
“At the moment, there is a need for change,” Broka had told about her candidacy when the nomination was announced, according to a loose translation. “I have been working in the Legal Committee of the IBU for four years, I have seen a lot of problems between Sochi and PyeongChang. I have seen a lot of things to do, many of my suggestions to change in the statutes have already been taken into account, the situation with doping scandals, in terms of good governance of the organization. To a great deal, the IBU has so far not paid attention and now it is apparent that it is missing. My legal experience would be useful.”
But while Broka advertised a fresh start, she came with some baggage of her own. Summing them up, German television network ARD on the state of the IBU in general and Broka in particular, citing an expert on Latvian politics at the University of Hamburg and local media reports who had unearthed a litany of questionable anecdotes from the candidate’s past: allegations of involvement in ominous real estate deals in the capital of Latvia; a personal credit from an Arab investor wanted by Interpol (which cost her a job as secretary of justice of her country after six months in office); leadership in a far-right nationalist party; and at the same time good relationships with a party that supports Russian interests, such as Latvia leaving NATO.
This led some in the biathlon community to fear that she might promote the Russian federation to full membership status again even though four more biathletes from that country were just had doping cases formally opened against them.
According to ARD, Broka roundly denied all of these allegations as fabrications by political opponents and not relevant for her involvement in sports governance, citing a section from the IOC’s charter that forbids political discrimination.
But while it is hard to say how much this story influenced the voting representatives of the member federations at the IBU Congress, elevating her to the presidency hardly would have been a good look for a sports organization keen to “clean house” and win back trust in the international sports community.
Vice Presidents New and Old
Besides the position of President, all other Executive Board positions were also up for election.
The incumbent First Vice President, Viktor Maigourov, was a former Olympic bronze medalist for Russia. The Russian Biathlon Union’s provisional membership meant that he could not run to have that position again, but he circumvented this issue by instead showing up on the ballot as a representative nominated by the Biathlon Federation of Belarus.
But in the week leading up to the Congress Maigurov reconsidered and ultimately withdrew his name from consideration.
Instead, the President of the Czech Biathlon Union Jiří Hamza to be elected as the new First Vice President, beating out German Ski Federation President Franz Steinle with 30-20 votes.
Hamza was outspoken when the Czech team was among the first to announce that it would boycott any World Cup events held in Russia due to the ongoing doping and corruption scandals.
Dr. Klaus Leistner of Austria was re-elected as Vice President Finances, seemingly unaffected by against the former leadership administration.
Besseberg and Resch were alleged to have taken personal payments from Russian interests and not have pursued all positive doping samples. They also are alleged to have potentially been involved in collusion for the awarding of various TV sports broadcasting rights. Both deny having accepted any personal payments and so far do not seem to have been officially charged by authorities.
Regardless, the IBU’s finance minister did not seem to take a hit among the voters for his former bosses’ potential financial misdeed.
As one of the first orders of business, Leistner will also have to deal with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) freezing the payout of funds from the PyeongChang Olympics until certain ‘good governance’ reforms including an external audit of the IBU’s anti-doping policies have been implemented, according to a press release from June.
During the Congress the IBU presented the findings from that audit, but it remains to be seen if all concerns of the IOC have been relieved with the decisions of this Congress and the change in leadership.
“I feel confident that the IBU has addressed all the requirements the IOC requested and have no doubt that the funds will be released,” Cobb commented on that issue.
North America Well Represented on the Executive Board
US Biathlon’s Cobb was re-elected to the Executive Board, receiving the most votes of any candidate with 43.
According to Cobb, Bernd Eisenbichler, USBA Chief of Sport, was also in attendance as the voting delegate for the U.S.
“I am very satisfied with the composition of the newly-elected IBU Executive Board,” Egan wrote in her email. “I have a high degree of confidence that this team can lead the IBU into a new era we can all be proud of. It was great to see that USBA’s CEO, Max Cobb, who has been a consistent and vocal advocate for athletes and for clean sport, was re-elected with the most votes of any board member.”
Canadian Dr. James Carrabre, who has made a name for himself as Chairman of the IBU Medical Committee and as a vocal anti-doping warrior, will also be on the Executive Board after he received 21 votes from the delegates.
“Congress clearly came here to make a clear statement in the favour of clean sport,” Carrabre said, according to an IBU press release.
“I am very happy that Jim Carrabre was reelected,” Cobb commented on the election of his colleague in an email. “Jim has been a true champion of clean sport and as a result IBU is leading the charge on prosecution of doping cases based the information that the World Anti-Doping Agency collected.”
The other new members will be Tore Boygard (Norway, 37 votes), Dagmar Gerasimuk (Poland, 35 votes), Dr. Franz Steinle (Germany, 34 votes) and Ivor Lehotan (Slovakia, 22 votes).
And the Congress took another decision to involve the athletes more directly into the direction the sport is taking, by adding a representative to the Executive Board with full voting rights. As the current chair of the Athlete’s Committee elected by her peers in March 2018, this role fell to Egan.
“The biggest victory for athletes was the approval of the Athletes’ Committee proposal for a full, voting position on the Executive Board,” she wrote. “I am taking on that role. Already yesterday I video-called into our first meeting. Athletes have never been represented within the IBU’s leadership so this is a major step forward.”
“Olle demonstrated his leadership style as he led the newly elected board in our first meeting following our last congress session,” Cobb wrote, providing some insight into the proceedings of that newly elected board. “Perhaps as important as all the progress we made at the congress, he proved his commitment to a collaborative style where every member of the board was encouraged to share their thoughts on setting our policy agenda going forward. It was the most collaborative and empowering moment I have participated in during my two years on the IBU [Executive Board]. Through my years of leading work in sport, I have learned that the best decisions come when a diverse group share their thoughts in an open and respectful forum. Olle has set exactly that tone at our first meeting.”
As part of the new transparency the IBU also decided to admit accredited media members to Congresses. Until now, that had not been possible under the IBU’s Constitution, unlike at IOC General Assemblies.
Russian Biathlon Union Remains Suspended
Addressing another big issue on the agenda, the Congress voted against a petition by the Russian Biathlon Union for reinstatement to full membership status at this point in time, as it announced in a terse with only three sentences.
“I think the Congress showed good judgement in denying the Russian Biathlon Union’s (RBU) request for reinstatement of full membership,” athlete representative Egan commented on the decision. “The RBU was relegated to ‘provisional membership’ in December 2017 due to their doping scandal. Russia remains noncompliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, the IBU just last week announced that four more Russian athletes have been notified of anti-doping rule violations, and two former IBU leaders are currently under criminal investigation for taking bribes in order to support RBU interests. It would send the wrong message if the IBU were to welcome the RBU back under these circumstances. Under provisional status, Russian athletes are not punished–they can continue to compete normally–but the federation can’t bid on events, vote in elections, or nominate candidates. I think it’s fair. That being said, the new Executive Board needs to work with the RBU to agree on a path for reform and reinstatement.”
Furthermore, the IBU adopted a motion that no country that is not considered compliant with the code of the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) at both the time a bidding/voting process takes place or later when the event is scheduled will be eligible to host IBU-sanctioned competitions.
Presumably this was a reaction to last season’s controversy when the 2018 World Cup final was hosted by Tyumen as well as the last two stages of the IBU Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk and Uvat, all Russia, while both the RBU and the Russian anti-doping agency were officially suspended by the IBU respectively WADA. The IBU leadership at the time argued that when the events had been awarded and the contract with the organizing committees signed Russia had still been considered in compliance.
That conflict had triggered a by several countries and a few individual athletes such as Sweden’s rising star .
Future World Championships
On the last day of the Congress, decisions about awarding the venues for future IBU World Championships . The list of candidates was very short, but all had extensive experience hosting World Cups and prior World Championships.
For 2021 Pokljuka, Slovenia,was the only candidate and was approved by the Congress delegates uncontested with 49 to 1 votes.
Then after delegations from both venues had presented their event concepts Oberhof, Germany, beat out Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic,to host the 2023 World Championships with 28to 21 votes.
Thus the calendar for upcoming IBU World Championships looks like this:
2019: Östersund, Sweden
2020: Antholz, Italy
2021: Pokljuka, Slovenia
2022: No IBU World Championships due to Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China
2023: Oberhof, Germany
Cobb stated he expects the Czechs to bid again for the 2024 iteration of the IBU World Championships and “run a great campaign.”
Olympic Quota for Biathlon Reduced
In July the IBU that to its disappointment it had been informed of an IOC decision with the intention to reduce the biathlon quota by 20 athletes for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing (and presumably going forward).
The topic was on the schedule for the IBU Congress, with IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell and IOC Head of Winter Sports Irina Gladkikh attending a special joint workshop to explain the reasoning behind the decision, according to a .
But no concrete decision was published, with the IBU representatives stating that more work remains to be done in the appropriate committees later this year. Thus it remains to be seen which type of countries will be most affected by this change and what – if any – effects it could have on future Olympic teams for US Biathlon and Biathlon Canada.
Technical Committee Members and Decisions: More Participants in Mass Starts
Instead of the previously very selective field of only 30 athletes allowed to start in the women’s (12.5km) and men’s (15km) mass start discipline, the IBU Congress adopted a proposal from the Technical Committee to double that number to 60.
The new format will be tested on the second-tier IBU Cup circuit this year; it requires some changes since most venues only have 30 lanes of targets. The IBU posted a video explaining how the expanded field would move through the shooting range under the proposed change.
The number of World Cup wild cards available has been raised to eight, and restricted to a maximum of two per national federation.
Ten members were that makes decisions about the nitty gritty details of biathlon competitions, among them e.g. active coaches such as Germany’s Gerald Hoenig and past World Cup athletes such as Olga Nazarova of Belarus.
For the U.S., Max Saenger was up for re-election to the Technical Committee, and according to Cobb he “only narrowly missed being elected”. Saenger reportedly received 25 votes tied with Tommi-Pekka Riihivuori of Finland, while Tomas Bernatof Poland was the last one making the cut with 27, according to a press release by Italian sports journalist Alex Tabarelli.
Recently retired biathlete Daniel Böhm of Germany also joins the committee as the 11th member, as nominated by the Athlete’s Committee without requiring the approval from the Congress.
According to Egan, Böhm was in attendance at the Congress to keep the athletes informed as well, while she had “really wanted to go” but ultimately decided to follow the decisions from afar to “prioritize my own training”, partly because she would not have had a vote to influence the outcome of decisions anyway. “I have no doubt that it would have been a good learning experience but when it comes down to it, Athletes’ Committee members do not vote”, Egan wrote.
That now changes after the decisions at this Congress, with the athletes having a voice and vote on the Executive Board.
Egan’s fellow Athlete’s Committee members Martin Fourcade (France), Erik Lesser (Germany) and Aita Gasparin (Switzerland) had made the same decision and skipped attending the event in person.
“I would hope that such [negative] headlines will no longer be produced,” Lesser had outlined his expectations in an interview with German network ZDF a week before the IBU Congress. “That [the IBU] works transparent, that one investigates what happened in the past, that athletes know what is happening, that the member federations know what’s going on, and also that – cash is king – the sponsors know where the international federation is heading. And I believe that the IBU noticed that the world is currently looking at the IBU pretty negatively. […] I believe a change of thought is happening, and I hope at the IBU Congress in Croatia that will be executed now.”
The Congress concluded with a gala dinner celebrating the 25 years since the IBU had been founded. The sport is much older even in its competitive form, but previously it had shared an organization with Modern Pentathlon.
During that ceremony recently retired stars Darya Domracheva of Belarus, her husband Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway, and Esa Hapaala of Finland (the event manager of the Kontiolahti World Cup) were awarded a special IBU “”. Domracheva also the event.
After a brief look at the past, the federation is now looking to the future.
“We will conduct a total review of our constitution and policies aimed at implementing robust standards for good governance and transparency to be put in place at least by 2020,” Cobb wrote about the outlook for the next years. “We are already getting to work on a first ever long term strategic plan for IBU aimed at developing and empowering our national federations and event organizers […] and making our sport as attractive as possible. The goals are to grow our sport and to increase our sport’s visibility and value to drive further support of our national federations, large and small alike. It is a long term proposition but I believe it will be a very important step in the future of our sport.”
He also explained that the IBU is exploring the creation of a coaching academy, and in particular wants to “encourage the development of female coaches and national federation leaders” beginning in 2019.
“The adoption of a Code of Ethics and the decision to revise the entire IBU Constitution before the 2020 Congress were also really important,” Egan concluded in her email. “There were many, many decisions taken at the Congress, but in my opinion the composition of the leadership team is by far the most important. With good leadership, we can do great things. I’ll do my best to be a good representative for all biathletes!”
“We had a great start but the real work begins now,” Cobb summed up the Congress. “Real progress will take time and we will all be judged on what we accomplish for the sport.”
The next Executive Board Meeting will be held on 4 November 2018 in Lausanne, while the next Regular IBU Congress is scheduled to be held in 2020 in Prague, Czech Republic.
Harald has been following cross-country skiing and biathlon for some 20 years since the Olympic Winter Games in Albertville and Lillehammer. A graduate of Middlesex University London and Harvard University, he now lives near the Alps where he likes to go skiing, snowboarding and hiking. He is a former track athlete in middle-distance running, as well as a huge NBA fan.