Despite opposition, Russia will host final biathlon of World Cup season

The executive board of the International Biathlon Union has voted to hold the final event of the 2018 World Cup series in Tyumen, Russia, next month despite substantial opposition from athletes and several national federations.

Two lower-tier events also will take place in March as scheduled in the Siberian city.

One of the athletes' main objections is that RUSADA, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, remains out of compliance with World Anti-Doping Agency standards after three years of suspension and turmoil in the wake of the Sochi 2014 doping scandal.

The IBU's response via press release was that it "decided on the schedule for the 2017/2018 season prior to RUSADA's noncompliance.''

"Secondly, all members of the Association of the International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF) agreed at a conference call on 9 December 2017 that all competitions in Russia will be conducted as planned for the ongoing season 2017/2018, unless new important and legally backed evidence is brought up,'' the release continued.

However, the decision runs counter to others recently taken by the IBU, including withdrawing the 2021 world championships from Tyumen. The Russian Biathlon Union also has been placed on provisional suspension, a status that has no effect on athletes in competition.

The International Olympic Committee barred a number of top Russian biathletes -- including Sochi Games relay gold medalist Anton Shipulin, currently fourth overall on the World Cup circuit -- from competing as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" in the Pyeongchang Games because they did not meet a list of anti-doping criteria. The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld that selection process. Two men and two women from Russia are racing, not enough to field relay teams.

The IBU vote to allow Tyumen to host the final event of the four-month World Cup series is likely to spark a strong reaction from athletes competing in the women's and men's individual races in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Thursday evening. French, German, Swedish and Czech athletes have indicated they do not want to race in Russia this season.

IBU executive board members from the United States and Canada told ESPN they voted against keeping the event in Tyumen. Top U.S. athletes already have gone on record as saying they do not want to compete in Russia because of the country's defiance and recalcitrance in moving toward genuine reform.

"I was moved by the appeals of the athletes, the dozens of letters we received from top athletes,'' said US Biathlon CEO Max Cobb. "I found their concerns very compelling.''

Cobb said US Biathlon would not make any further statements until he and other staff members had met with the team after Thursday's races.

Reigning 20-kilometer individual world champion Lowell Bailey, of Lake Placid, New York, previously had told ESPN that holding the event in Tyumen "would be a huge, huge affront to clean athletes. That's saying to the world, to the athletes on the World Cup, the IBU executive board has no problem with doping and they actually, in a sense, reward federations that dope. Because that's a reward. It's a monetary reward, pride, all of those things.''

World mass start silver medalist Susan Dunklee, of Barton, Vermont, said last month she does not want to compete in Tyumen because she and other athletes have been harassed on social media for their advocacy of strong sanctions against Russia. She added that she is uneasy about the security around drug testing in that country.

"Tensions are so high right now, it's not something I feel comfortable risking,'' Dunklee said. "It's sad. I want to see sports unify the world and not be this divisive thing. But we have to come from a basis of respect for each other first, and doping has no place in a world of respect.''

Biathlon Canada, the national governing body for the sport, informed the IBU in December that its team would not compete in an event held in Russia.

James Carrabre of Canada, a physician, IBU vice president and chairman of the medical committee, told ESPN that he also had voted against keeping the events in Tyumen and said holding the event there is "disrespectful" toward the athletes.

"You have to realize that the final World Cup is a very special event,'' Carrabre said in a text message. "It is where we give out the [trophies] to our overall World Cup champions and this makes it a very prestigious event. This should not be given to a country where we've had such blatant violation of our most sacred rules.''

Carrabre said he was "certain" more doping cases would emerge, based on electronic data from the Moscow laboratory delivered by whistleblowers and turned over to international federations including the IBU, and he said he was surprised the majority of executive board members were not more concerned about that.

"Despite being proactive and offering help to the Russian Federation to assist in improving their anti-doping activities and to try to solve the immense problems within Russia in doping, there's been no effort on their part to reach back and express a willingness to change or even develop a program to prevent this from happening in the future,'' Carrabre wrote.

"RUSADA consistently remains noncompliant, and the main reason for this is that they refused to release the lab data that would incriminate them further in the doping scandal. If the data is not significant, then why won't they release it? This also supports my impression that they have no interest in cleaning up their act.''