Olympics

Big Balls And Brainwashing In Biathlon Drug Scandal

The Russian doping fallout goes on and the takes are fire

Olympics
AFP/Getty Images
Dec 21, 2016 at 4:08 PM ET

There is no angrier sportsman than a biathlete wronged.

After the second McLaren Report, the International Biathlon Union received “31 executive summaries on investigations related to Russian athletes” competing in the biathlon—with as-yet-unconfirmed evidence raising suspicion over three members of the 4x6km relay that won Olympic silver in Sochi. In one enclosed email from former Russian lab director Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, he wrote, “This chaos must be stopped in biathlon.”

With no action yet taken in response—though a meeting is planned for Thursday, Dec. 22—Great Britain and the Czech Republic are leading a boycott of the IBU World Cup scheduled to take place this March in Russia, at a rest near the Siberian city of Tyumen. The IBU even awarded the 2021 world championships to Tyumen despite the IOC’s provisional measures from July prohibiting Russia from hosting. (The world junior championships are also set to be in Russia, starting on Feb. 22 in Ostrov.)

While formal statements are typically the domain of stodgy, PC jargon, the British Biathlon Union instead came out swinging in their announcement: “This follows the brain-washed, deluded and dishonest comments of Russian WC athletes that McLaren is about Politics, not sport. . . . Finally, many of the results from Sochi must be regarded as ‘a joke.’”

The Brits aren’t alone, either. French Olympic biathlon champion Martin Fourcade told Norwegian television channel NRK, “If my federation don’t get big balls enough to tackle the problem, athletes have to do it on their own.”

Fourcade added, “It’s not like it’s only one or two. It’s 31 added to the 12 we had over the few past years in biathlon.” He also threatened a boycott at the time, before walking that idea back in a statement, saying, “before any reaction, insinuations or loose talk . . . we have to wait for proof.”

Norway’s 2010 Olympic champ Emil Hegle Svendsen told the station, “The IBU must make a clear example to show that this will not be tolerated. I support the IBU if they do it.”

The Czech Biathlon Union president, Jiří Hamza, added his own two cents to the iDNES news agency in response to the Brits’ statement: “It was about time that some federation came and said out loud what we are talking about behind the scenes.”

The Russian Biathlon Union has of course tried denying these allegations, claiming it has “consistently pursued a policy of zero tolerance for doping” while noting that several athletes have already been caught and banned.

While the International Olympic Committee declined to heed the World Anti-Doping Agency’s counsel that the entire Russian contingent should have been banned from the Rio Games this summer—and instead passed the buck on decisions to each sport’s own governing body—these national biathlon federations are the first to speak up with real bite in comments blasting the way international sport has handled the Russian doping crisis.

However unlikely the source, this could be a tipping point in international attitudes toward sporting governing bodies in how they handle the Russian doping fallout.