(ATR) Biathletes are angered and call for immediate action in the wake of bribery allegations and the criminal investigation of longstanding federation president Anders Besseberg and secretary general Nicole Resch.
Biathletes compete on a snowy night in PyeongChang (ATR)
U.S. and Czech athletes tell Around the Rings
that the Austrian police raid on the International Biathlon Union’s Salzburg headquarters and investigation into corruption and bribery related to Russian doping cover-ups are highly disturbing. But not surprising.
“Not surprised at all – I heard these rumors many times in past and I believed it,” said Czech biathlete Gabriela Koukelova, a double silver medalist at Sochi 2014 and former overall World Cup champion. “I believe most of the biathletes had that feeling too.”
“I think it has been a long time coming and I applaud the Austrian and Norwegian authorities for uncovering this disturbing information," Lowell Bailey, four-time U.S. Olympian and 2017 world champion said. Bailey was also at one time a member of the IBU Athletes Commission.
“Besseberg has said a thousand times that we have to come together as the biathlon family to stop this opposition to Russia because that is wrong and it is absolutely abhorrent and appalling that that sentiment was based on personal greed and personal agenda.
“It sacrificed our right to go out and compete on a fair playing field and that is one of the most egregious acts in the world of sports.”
Besseberg – president of the IBU since 1993 – relinquished his position on April 11 amid the investigation and Resch was “provisionally suspended” by biathlon’s ruling body.
The bribes amounted to $300,000, prosecutors said. A report by Norwegian newspaper VG
alleged that Besseberg has helped to hide 65 Russian doping cases since 2011. It said 17 of the 22 Russians who participated in last season’s World Cup were linked to “proven doping”.
Besseberg at the PyeongChang 2018 biathlon venue (ATR)
Besseberg, 72, denied the accusations in response to VG.
Bailey’s longtime U.S. teammate and fellow four-time Olympian Tim Burke – both of whom retired in March – is also troubled by the alleged IBU transgressions.
“The biggest goal coming out of this is that athletes will be able to compete on a truly level playing field, but in the immediate future I want to see an apology and big changes in leadership up top,” Burke tells ATR
“This isn’t something that is going to go away in the next couple of months – this is going to be a long-term healing process.”
"It has been a very, very difficult situation for all sports to put in that way,” Besseberg told ATR
during PyeongChang 2018 about the Russian doping crisis.
"One thing sport and WADA, all federations and IOC have in common is that we want to fight for the clean athletes, but at the same time we must also be very careful so that we are not sanctioning clean athletes. This is problematic in this case.”
Recently retired U.S. biathletes Burke (left) & Bailey (right) at World Cup finals in Oslo (U.S. Biathlon)
The now retired U.S. biathletes emphasize that Besseberg and IBU leadership never listened to or addressed concerns from athletes about mandating clean sport. The peculiar awarding of the 2021 world championship to Tyumen, Russia raised red flags of corruption.
“The thought of going to compete in a country where the national anti-doping agency is not compliant...if we don’t choose to play by the rules, then what’s the point of having a sport or international federation who is supposedly governing our sport,” Bailey said.
“I was very frustrated with their lack of concern,” he said of Besseberg and IBU leadership. “In hindsight, I see how they were incentivized to actively undermine the athletes' voice and the clean sport movement.”
Biathlon federation vice-president Klaus Leistner assumed temporary control of the federation pending the outcome of the Austrian police probe, while V.P. Max Cobb represented the embattled governing body at SportAccord in Bangkok. Cobb noted that IOC president Thomas Bach warned the federation to “act quickly” although he admitted the next board meeting has not yet been scheduled.
“The need for decisive action is very apparent,” Bailey said. “It is clear now that the system does not work, it is flawed and it has proven to be easily corruptible.”
“Contrary to what Besseberg would say which is the ‘athletes are silent and therefore content’ – that is absolutely not true.
“Going forward, there needs to be a way for the athletes' voice and athletes' committee to have a very real and tangible role in decision making at the highest level."
Burke remains optimistic about biathlon’s future.
“Maybe now with a huge scandal like this, they will take responsibility and start to clean up our sport,” he said. “I do feel like there is hope.”
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli
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