In light of McLaren Report findings of widespread doping within Russian sport, Biathlon Canada chair Murray Wylie said he supports the decision to move International Biathlon Union events out of Russia, and says he’d personally like to see those caught doping banned for life.
Wylie said he’d like to see the IBU take a hard line on dopers, as the McLaren Report laid out damning evidence of the Russian program. He cites the Ethiopian sport federation as a model for such a move.
“I believe in what the Ethiopian sport federation said. If you are caught cheating, you should be banned for life from sport. We know there are many athletes who work very hard at their sport, and who do it clean, and they hope to compete on the same level.
Within the sport, the McLaren Report identified 31 Russian biathletes suspected of doping. The IBU has since moved forward with suspensions on two athletes.
The New York Times reported last week top-level Russian officials admitted to the wide-reaching doping operations before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Other Russian officials denied those claims the following day.
However, Russia has ‘given back’ all of its events in 2017 – World Cup 8 in Tyumen and the youth/junior world championship in Ostrov – while the investigation continues.
That move came as a relief to Wylie, as Canadians had discussed boycotting the Russian events in protest, and also to protect their athletes. Before the IBU accepted the Russian events, the Czech Republic and Great Britain had already stated they would not send athletes to biathlon events in Russia.
“Our team had serious concerns about competing in Russia, given the transgressions described in the McLaren Report and the events of the past few months. We simply cannot have confidence in anti-doping procedures at competitions in Russia at this time; we must act to protect the interests of our athletes and coaches, and the integrity of the sport, Wylie said.
Wylie said the outcome was expected, although he would have liked to have seen the IBU pull the events out of Russia earlier.
“It’s quite clear this has been going on for a number of years. It puts a black spot not only on the Sochi Olympics, but they are retesting samples from the London Olympics and now the Vancouver Olympics,” Wylie said.
“Clearly there is evidence of a large program. Now we will go through the process, and go through the samples again … at the end of the day, the punishment has to be harsh.”
Wylie would also like to see world championships in 2021 removed from Russia, noting Canada was shocked to see the grand council vote for Tyumen in 2021 before the start of the biathlon season.
“Canada did not vote for Tyumen and it is our hope this decision will be reconsidered,” Wylie said. “We didn’t vote for them. I was quite upset when they were awarded the championships. I thought the president would have something to say about it from the get go,” Wylie said.
Retired biathlete Megan Imrie said she’s not surprised by the findings of the McLaren report. At 21, she had her eyes opened up to doping in the sport as a rookie on the tour.
“In my first year on the World Cup, I saw athletes bagging blood in the hallway of a hotel in Antholz. That was 12 years ago,” Imrie said. “We knew there was doping going on when I was racing. Now we have more evidence than ever before. It’s incredibly frustrating to see those people win over and over again without being caught.”
Imrie stuck with the sport even though she knew she wasn’t competing against a level playing field. After the report emerged, Imrie’s thoughts went to her time on Canada’s relay team along with Rosanna Crawford, Megan Tandy and Zina Kocher. The Canadian women finished fourth in a race in France the 2013-14 season. They finished ahead of the Russians, but behind the Ukrainians, who had an athlete caught doping on their team. Since Biathlon Canada’s Own the Podium funding is tied to medals, it could have had a cascading result.
“That’s the part that’s tricky. It comes down to money and resources,” Imrie said. “Funding markers are impacted by doping.”
Speaking as a former athlete, she’d also like to see harsh penalties for doping, such as losing events or Olympic bans.
“This is a wake-up call. It’s still surprising to a lot of people. I’ve been trying to tell people for the last decade. It’s not surprising for those in the biathlon community. Hopefully change will happen, but it hast to be something drastic,” Imrie said.
She’s been in contact with many current athletes, who have been outspoken about doping in sport. Top athlete Martin Fourcade of France has called for stiff penalties in order to clean up the sport, but Imrie said his fervor isn’t matched across all nations.
“I have chatted with a few athletes to guage what is happening on the World Cup. There was an athlete meeting with representatives from different nations. There were some people who were surprisingly cavalier about the whole thing, and not willing to put up a fight. You realize how many different athletes have ties to Russia in one way or another, through sponsors, or training locations or extended family. There are so many sneaky pieces,” Imrie said.
The IBU will announce new locations for the 2017 events later this week (see related story on page 41).
Canadian Richard McLaren, appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate allegations of Russian doping, authored the McLaren Report.