Liam Morgan @ITG

First a German lawyer, now the International Biathlon Union (IBU).

What Christof Wieschemann and the IBU have in common is they both seem to harbour clear uncertainty towards to the validity and strength of the evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia in the second part of the McLaren Report, published in all its painful glory last month.

Part two was supposed to quash any doubts over the damning report, raised mostly by Russians, in the wake of the release of part one back in July. It was supposed to silence critics once and for all.

Yet in dismissing the cases of 22 of the 31 Russians under investigation by the IBU for their implication in the report due to a lack of evidence, biathlon’s world governing body has cast another undeserved question mark over the extensive and worrying findings in the report.

This was not supposed to happen. The sheer extent of the evidence, as detailed as it is disturbing, given in the report should be more than enough for International Federations (IFs) such as the IBU to begin to take strong, meaningful sanctions to rid sport of its doping problem.

Indeed, the fact that the IBU felt it necessary to convene a 12-man working group, before holding two Executive Board meetings, to assess and evaluate the document with a fine-tooth comb suggested they were of the same opinion.

In fairness to the IBU, their verdict of “no sufficient evidence” regarding 22 of the Russian biathletes named in the report was reached following what appears, on the surface at least, to be stringent analysis.

Seven athletes were not so lucky and the IBU has now demanded the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU) provide them with a “detailed and fully documented report” on the remaining cases. A formal investigation into the RBU has also been launched.

The IBU convened an extraordinary Executive Board meeting at a World Cup event in Antholz ©Getty Images
The IBU convened an extraordinary Executive Board meeting at a World Cup event in Antholz ©Getty Images

The issue with the McLaren Report from a legal perspective is proving the athletes named were aware they were part of a scheme the Canadian lawyer said amounted to an “institutional conspiracy”, which cheated potentially hundreds of clean athletes out of medals and international success between 2011 and 2015.

If the Russian athletes had no idea, like their East German counterparts many years previously, do they deserve to be punished to the full extent of sports law? Or should they be granted a reprieve because they were unknowing pawns in the system? Unfortunately, we may never know who was aware and who was unaware.

Perhaps it is for this reason that 22 Russians were today cleared of wrongdoing by the IBU, who have seemingly reverted to their default setting in giving the RBU yet more time to explain their involvement in the scandal.

“Regarding the 29 athletes, against which the IBU opened investigation on December, 22, the IBU Extraordinary Executive Board meeting decided today to further investigate seven individual athletes,” the RBU statement read.

“There is no sufficient evidence for the other athletes for the time being.”

What is also concerning is that, since the McLaren Report was unveiled in London two weeks before Christmas, only two athletes - Olympic silver medallist Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina - have been sanctioned for their involvement by the IBU. And they are only serving provisional suspensions.

Is this a sign of things to come? Will other IFs, who are also mulling over the Russia situation, follow suit?

The verdict reached by the IBU casts doubt on the evidence in the McLaren Report ©Getty Images
The verdict reached by the IBU casts doubt on the evidence in the McLaren Report ©Getty Images

We are now left with a situation which would, rightly so, provoke feelings of anger among those who called for the entire Russian team to be banned from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in the wake of the publication of the first part of the report last year as the country will, more than likely, have a strong presence at the IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen in Austria next month, as well as all other major events in the sport.

According to RBU President Aleksandr Kravtsov, all is now well with the world. “It’s OK - there is no talking about Russian biathlon team’s suspension and the team will go on with the competitions,” he told Russian news agency TASS.

The IBU will scrutinise the information on the seven cases provided by the RBU when the Executive Board convenes for the crunch February 9 meeting but, if today’s gathering is anything to go by, expect Russia to be allowed to continue to compete at the highest level as if nothing has happened.

The result of the meeting in Antholz is surely not what the 170 athletes who signed a letter written to the IBU, which called for “resolute action against Russian doping”, had been hoping for.

In fact, it is not what many of us were hoping for. We have longed for an IF other than the International Association of Athletics Federations to show they mean business against Russia and the state-sponsored scheme which has tarnished sport almost beyond repair.

Of all the IFs, those who govern winter sports should send the strongest message. After all, the state-sponsored programme was fully-fledged and arguably at its most effective during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

The IBU, in this respect, have failed spectacularly. To put it bluntly, it has taken them two meetings and irritating levels of rhetoric to open a “formal investigation” into the RBU. Why didn’t they do that straight away? What has taken so long?

Yana Romanova, right, is one of two Russian biathletes to have been provisionally suspended by the RBU ©Getty Images
Yana Romanova, right, is one of two Russian biathletes to have been provisionally suspended by the RBU ©Getty Images

Of the 31 who were first implicated, only seven, plus the two already provisionally suspended, remain on the firing line. Are we really to believe McLaren’s evidence is only worthy of punishing such a small amount of athletes? 

Let us not forget that the Canadian found proof of the involvement of over 1,000 Russians in the scheme across more than 30 sports. The numbers, quite frankly, do not add up.