Only Fourcade blows for hunting

The most outspoken critic of the International Biathlon Union: Martin Fourcade


Only Fourcade blows for hunting

In view of the doping and corruption scandal rocking the International Biathlon Union IBU, decisive protest by the athletes would have been expected. But being caught between caution and career ambitions, the ski hunters are reluctant to pressure their officials. Hajo Seppelt and Joerg Winterfeldt analyse.

It has been an exhausting weekend for the bosses of the biathlon world federation, IBU. Once again. In Hochfilzen, the season is only experiencing its second World Cup, and yet the biathletes seem to be heavily shaken again so early in a winter. In Austria it was once again a question of discussing whether Russians should be punished. It followed national criminal investigators visiting the delegation in their hotel last week to officially inform ten athletes, doctors and coaches that investigations are under way against them.

This was unpleasant for the top management of the association. Being left aside from the criminal investigators‘ detailed knowledge, the functionaries had to admit that they could not take action against anyone. A little helpless, the association, which has been badly hit by the accusations of corruption and doping cover-up, is currently manoeuvering through this winter. Even the external commission set up to investigate all internal sins reported to the executive board in Hochfilzen little more than that at least one first meeting had taken place in Munich in the six weeks since its establishment.

Commission President Jonathan Taylor, a British lawyer, had to tell the sports officials that they still lack an envoy of the athletes, a former biathlete who is "crucial to transparency and credibility”. This is the responsibility of the Athletes Committee. In March, the biathletes elected a quartet of four: the French superstar Martin Fourcade, the German Erik Lesser, the Swiss Aita Gasparin and the American Clare Egan as chairwoman with the most votes. They are in talks with several potential representatives for Taylor's investigative commission, but still have to clarify details.

The dirtiest blood profile

In the severe crisis, athletes present a contradictory picture. Not only because they are taking their time in finally appointing a representative to join the committee. Gasparin, the youngest of three biathlon sisters, has hardly given any commentary in public. The American Egan knows exactly that she ended up in the commission not because of her sporting performance but because of her ethical attitude, but she acts so extremely cautiously, as if she didn't want to screw-up a later career as an official. The German Lesser preaches a decisive anti-doping fight, but pays careful attention not to prejudge hastily.

Outspoken critic about a cross country skier: Erik Lesser

Outspoken critic about a cross country skier: Erik Lesser

And the Frenchman Fourcade shows himself to be the most outspoken and offensive critic of the quartet. He finally had to leave Olympic gold in Vancouver to Russia’s Yevegeny Ustyugov, about whom the whistleblower Grigori Rodchenkov reported that he had the dirtiest blood profile of all. Four years after the end of his career, the IBU has now brought charges against him on the basis of Russian laboratory data. "I know I'll never get the gold," says Fourcade, "but I've always felt like the true Olympic champion."

When the IBU took action against Kazakh team members just a few weeks ago, after the police had raided the team almost two years earlier, Fourcade complained. “When I see there are nine people suspended from Kazakhstan and the Kazakh team was on the track when the season started in Pokljuka, of course I feel betrayed. Of course there are laws. But there is more than that if you want to fight against doping."

By the hour on video

The athletes have come a long way in their fight to have a say in the federation. It was only after the scandals that the IBU decided, by constitutional amendment, that the chairman of the commission, Egan, could join the board with a seat and a vote. The fact that an American wants to participate in the European-dominated association proved to be a serious disadvantage, which the athletes were unlikely to have taken into account during their election.

When the board met for its first important meeting at the beginning of November, Egan had to skip most of the meeting because she had to qualify for the US team at home. She only listened in for a couple of hours via videoconference. “Due to the eight hour time difference I called in for an afternoon session of the meeting,” Egan said. “I said what is most important to me. Let‘s do these in the afternoon when I am present.”

Attack on Therese Johaug

And Lesser in particular urged caution just before the season when information became known from a confidential WADA dossier on the IBU. It indicated that, just a year ago, of the total of 406 blood passports of which the IBU was custodian, eleven were registered as atypical. And of those only the Russian Ustyugov was facing sanctions. Lesser referred to the case of German speed skater Claudia Pechstein, although the rules were changed decisively afterwards. "It is of course dangerous to put someone to the pillory only because he has conspicuous blood values. I mean Claudia Pechstein proved that quite well that one can be NADA/WADA conformal with an anomaly on the way and that in spite of that everything is fair. We just have to hope that the medical committee will do its work, follow the blood passports", said Lesser before the start of the season. He then referred to the case of a Norwegian cross-country skier, who starts again after a one-and-a-half year ban on doping, "I think it's much worse that Therese Johaug is back at the start and is being celebrated and has herself being celebrated. Fortunately, we don't have that in our environment, if I'm properly informed now."

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Only a week later, the Austrians authorities officially informed the Russian biathletes Irina Starykh, 31, and Alexander Loginov, 26, among others that they were persons of interest in a preliminary investigation. Both had already been suspended for two years because they were doping before the Olympic Games in Sochi. "I wanted to make it public yesterday, but for some reason the prosecutors asked me very much not to publish it in the media. Obviously for a modern Russian athlete it is no longer enough to pass the doping tests," Loginov set himself up as a great victim on Instagram, "I was in a bad situation anyway for what I had not done, and yesterday they accused me and not only me of some blood transfusion (we were not told anything more). And all this in February 2017, when I competed [for] only two months in total. The most interesting thing is that all this is based on about 100 respondents and Rodchenkov himself."

Stand: 18.12.2018, 13:54