The dark heritage

World Cup opener: Biathletes in Pokljuka, Slovenia.

The dark heritage

Von Hajo Seppelt, Grit Hartmann, Jörg Winterfeldt

Observers of the controversial International Biathlon Union (IBU) speak of positive change. These is evidence suggesting this is not the case, however, and the governing body still cannot guarantee its athletes a fair competition this season.

On a rainy November morning, the German policeman Günter Younger recently travelled to the venerable Lord's Cricket Ground in London for a press conference. More than 5,000 kilometres from Montreal, Canada, where the man from Munich has been chief investigator of the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, since October 2016. His task: Helping his organisation out of trouble on a media day.

Their leadership around the Scotsman Craig Reedie has been heavily criticised for their proximity to the International Olympic Committee and apparent lack of determination in dealing with Russian state doping. It’s one of the reasons why the organisation likes to use Younger as a kind of lightning rod – with his London appearance a perfect example. The bald Bavarian doesn't have the reputation of being prone to cover-ups.

Completely independent

At the end of last year, Younger produced a dossier that encouraged criminal investigators from Norway and Austria to carry out spectacular raids in April: a report on corruption in the Salzburg-based International Biathlon Union. It focused on Norwegian IBU President Anders Besseberg, who had been in the post for 25 years and since 2001 also a member of the WADA Foundation Board, and the German secretary general Nicole Resch. Both lost their positions as a result.

Younger likes to emphasise that his department works completely independent of the WADA leadership: "Craig Reedie, for example, did not know about the investigations against the IBU until the police searches in Austria and Norway took place," he told the ARD doping editorial office in London. "There was no influence whatsoever, nor was there any questioning.”

The accusations weigh heavily. The IBU leadership is said to have been made compliant by Russian biathlon officials with money and favours - such as donated holidays and prostitutes - in order to hush up positive doping tests and to treat their interests benevolently. Besseberg and Resch have now emphatically denied this.

Change of climate

Younger remains cautious about the current state of the investigation: "The documents are currently being evaluated by the Vienna Public Prosecutor's Office. We are supporting them in this; for this reason alone I cannot provide any further information." The WADA chief investigator also attaches great importance to the fact that, so far, only initial suspicions have been identified: "The question is whether it is actually possible to prove doping cover-up and fraud.”

Since a new IBU leadership has been in office - the Swede Olle Dahlin was elected in September - Younger has been observing a climate change, as he calls it: "a departure". "We are now working very well with the IBU,” he insists. “It is very active in tackling the old cases."

However, even the new IBU leadership cannot guarantee that everything will go according to plan in the new season.

Impressive burden of proof

The new head of the International Biathlon Union: Olle Dahlin

The new head of the International Biathlon Union: Olle Dahlin

Because the education is slow to get off the ground, athletes who have long been incriminated against are still allowed to start. And these are by no means all Russians.

The former leadership had initiated a change of course when they came under heavy public pressure. In May, the IBU was the first winter sports association to ban an athlete as a result of the Russian state doping scandal - solely on the basis of data from the Moscow doping control laboratory and statements and reports from whistleblowers. Ekaterina Glasyrina, multiple World Cup starter, quickly withdrew her objection - the burden of proof was impressive.

This summer, the IBU initiated proceedings against four other Russian athletes who had not yet been named. Last week, just in time for the start of the World Cup, the federation filed a complaint and officially announced who they were: the Olympic champions Yevgeny Ustyugov and Svetlana Sleptsova as well as Alexander Pechenkin and Alexander Chernysev. From the quartet, however, Pechenkin alone was still active.

The IBU expect more cases to come from Russia. The Canadian James Carrabre chairs the medical committee of the world federation: "I don't see 20, 30, 40 - but 10 might be possible,” he tells ARD. “I'm sure, very sure."

Asked to checkout

This is a lot - more than is known from other winter sports associations. Is it because so many cases have been covered up before? Nevertheless, the new IBU - unlike the World Federations for athletics and weightlifting, for example - has not stopped Russian biathletes from racing under their own flag. The Russian federation is not banned, but merely degraded to a provisional member. Three weeks ago, the IBU dictated to the Russians a list of demands that must be fulfilled for renewed full membership. Among other things, they are to pay - for example for out-of-competition-testing or doping procedures of the IBU. That sounds good. But the integrity of the competition is not necessarily protected.

In fact, the Russian federation has also registered 12 biathletes this winter who, according to ARD research, might have been involved in state doping. Their names can be found in the McLaren Report, the WADA investigation into the Russia scandal. Some were also present at the Olympic Games in Sochi, when the entire Russian biathlon team is said to have been doped: At least that's what Grigori Rodchenkov, the previously reliable chief witness, claims.

This includes three team mates of the recently accused Yevgeny Ustyugov from the gold medal winning Sochi team: Alexei Volkov, Dmitri Malyshko and Anton Shipulin. The latter was even denied a start at the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang by the usually Russia-friendly IOC. In the IBU, Shipulin can win unhindered - as he did shortly after the Games at the Sprint World Cup in Kontiolahti, Finland.

Risk area Austria

For the first three World Cup races of the new season, however, the Russian federation has not nominated its star. Officially, this is because he is not fit enough. However, the race continues from Pokljuka to Hochfilzen in Austria - where investigators might be interested in Shipulin.

And what about biathletes from other nations? The dossier of WADA investigator Younger contains explosive potential, which has largely gone unnoticed so far. WADA analysed all 406 biological biological athletes’ passports held by the IBU: "Atypical blood passports are an indication of doping. Of the 406, 11 are atypical - six of them concern Russians." So where do the other five suspicious athletes come from? And why has the IBU so far only taken action against one of the athletes with an abnormal blood profile - the Russian Ustyugov?

Just three weeks ago, the World Federation set up a new commission under English lawyer Jonathan Taylor to deal with what the IBU press release calls "historical allegations". Historical?

Dahlin's homeland problem

The case of one coach, the German Wolfgang Pichler, is also highly topical and has been hardly noticed to date. He once coached stars like the controversial cross-country skier Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, who served a suspension at the beginning of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics due to a high haemoglobin level before failing a test for a banned stimulant in Sochi eight years later. Before those Russian Games Pichler also coached the home team. He always stressed that he hadn't noticed anything about

Moscow's state doping programme.

Recently, the coach made an affidavit in favour of his former protégé Yekaterina Glasyrina in the doping case. Whistleblower Rodchenkov had reported that Glasyrina had been hastily pulled out before the games in Sochi, because otherwise she would have been exposed during doping tests. Pichler assured that she had only been withdrawn for training tactical reasons.

In the doping verdict against Glasyrina, which dates from this year, the IBU judges stated: “Mr. Pichler’s affidavit is unpersuasive and unverifiable“. A separate part said that they “disclaimed the evidence of Mr. Pichler because there was no opportunity to cross-examine him.”

A slap in the face for the credibility of the German. Pichler is now national coach for the Swedes, the home association of the new IBU President, Olle Dahlin.

Stand: 06.12.2018, 14:20