ZHANGJIAKOU, CHN — International Ski Federation officials say they’re exploring backup options for season-ending races in Russia amid fears of a war between that country and Ukraine, though they’re still planning on holding the event as scheduled next month unless circumstances change.
The final races of the top-level World Cup are scheduled to be held in Tyumen, Russia, in an oil-rich area in Siberia — about 1,000 miles away from the border with Ukraine, where American officials are warning that Russia could invade.
In an interview at the Beijing Olympic cross-country ski venue, an official from the federation, known as FIS, said that if conditions remain unchanged, the World Cup finals will happen as planned.
“But of course, we need to see what will go on in the upcoming days,” said Pierre Mignerey, FIS’s cross-country race director. “We will start to prepare some backup solutions, in case.”
Mignerey said he’s had conversations in the past few days with organizers in Sweden and Norway, which could be convenient backups since the World Cup circuit will be racing in Scandinavia before it’s scheduled to head to Russia. The coronavirus pandemic also forced cancelations of races in Slovenia and France last month, so those countries could also be potential replacements, Mignerey said.
The U.S. Ski Team is still planning on attending the races in Russia and is excited to see the new venue in Tyumen, said Head Coach Matt Whitcomb. But he also said the team is monitoring the situation.
“There’s never any guarantee, particularly with the political climate, currently, but also with COVID,” Whitcomb said. “We’re only going to go places we feel like will be safe.”
Officials working with Tyumen’s race organizing committee didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Russia is one of the world’s leading nations in cross-country skiing, with its athletes winning gold medals in both the men’s and women’s distance relay events at the Olympics.
The World Cup finals are the first events set to held in Russia in several years, a consequence of doping-related sanctions.
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.