Liam Morgan

As the old British saying goes, you wait ages for a London bus and then two come along at once.

This is often true In the Olympic world as, at times, it feels like it takes an age for International Federations to do what the general public believes to be the right thing.

In the case of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF), it took less than a week.

The eagerly-anticipated McLaren Report, delivered at a press conference in London on December 9, revealed that 1,000 Russian athletes had been involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme from 2011 to 2015, which was in operation at major events including the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi. 

By the following Tuesday (December 13), after days of deliberation, the IBSF had stripped Sochi of the 2017 World Championships. It was unquestionably the right decision.

The level of evidence uncovered in the report was staggering in its enormity. The system, described as an "institutional conspiracy" by the Canadian lawyer who spearheaded the investigation, was so endemic and so ingrained in Russian society that it warranted a swift response.

And so the IBSF Executive Board, led by Italian President Ivo Ferriari, went into their meeting rooms and offices to look over the findings which had struck another blow to the credibility of sport and to the entire Olympic Movement.

What they saw and what they found left them with no choice but to remove the World Championships, which had been scheduled for February 13 to 26 at the Sanki Sliding Centre - the home of bobsleigh and skeleton at Sochi 2014 - from Russia and to look for an alternative location for their flagship event outside of the Olympic Games.

Of course, the pressure for them to do so had been growing even before Richard McLaren unleashed his latest report. As early as October, Britain’s Olympic skeleton gold medallist Lizzy Yarnold had urged the IBSF to move the competition from Sochi and refused to rule out a boycott should the worldwide governing body fail to do so.

Those calls had snowballed into confirmation from Latvia, a powerhouse in sliding sports, that they would not be sending athletes to compete if the event remained in Sochi. Others, including a group of American competitors and South Korean officials, had also threatened a boycott. 

The IBSF has decided to strip Sochi of the 2017 World Championships ©Getty Images
The IBSF has decided to strip Sochi of the 2017 World Championships ©Getty Images

That manipulation in the heinous Russian scheme had arguably reached its peak during the Games in the very city set to host the IBSF World Championships only fuelled the fire. After all, how could athletes have any confidence in the anti-doping methods in Russia?

While the IBSF should be praised for their stance, the reasoning behind the decision, outlined in their statement, was not exactly damning of Russia. Perhaps it would have been better to be a tad stronger considering McLaren comprehensively dismissed any doubts over the legitimacy of the report in part two, which put the meat on the bones of part one and thus quelled any claims that the document was comprised of nothing more than baseless allegations.

The IBSF statement said they had stripped Sochi of the event "to allow athletes and coaches from all nations to participate in a competition that focuses on sport rather than accusations and discussions – whether justified or not". Was McLaren’s evidence not justification enough?

"The Russian Bobsleigh Federation has put a great effort in the preparation of the World Championships, but the current climate would make it nearly impossible to appreciate the efforts of the Organising Committee to host a great event or the quality of the Sanki Sliding Center as one of the best tracks in the world," the IBSF added,

"Having stated that, the IBSF asks all Members and athletes for fair play and respect, which also includes the assumption of innocence for any athlete, regardless of national affiliation, until proven guilty."

This, however, should not overshadow the fact that the IBSF got their decision spot on. The statements of other Winter International federations may contain harsher condemnation of the report’s findings but they have not, as yet, backed up their fighting talk with discernible actions.

It is about time they did exactly that.

It is about time they send a signal to Russia and to the Government Ministers who had a hand in "a cover-up that evolved over the years from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalised and disciplined medal-winning strategy and conspiracy".

Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren's report revealed over 1,000 Russian athletes in 30 sports had been involved in the state-sponsored doping system between 2011 and 2015 ©Getty Images
Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren's report revealed over 1,000 Russian athletes in 30 sports had been involved in the state-sponsored doping system between 2011 and 2015 ©Getty Images

At the time of writing, the IBSF stand alone in their response to Russia. This is in stark contrast to the likes of the International Biathlon Union (IBU), whose President Anders Besseberg has offered little more than vague rhetoric ever since the first part of the McLaren Report was published in July.

The Norwegians latest quotes do not exactly fill you with hope. Besseberg told Norwegian newspaper VG there was "nothing to clarify" regarding the 2021 World Championships in Tyumen, controversially awarded to the Russian city in September, when asked by the reporter whether they would consider moving the competition elsewhere.

Besseberg, head of the IBU for over two decades, also claimed there was "no rush" in potentially switching other biathlon events from Russia, including the Junior World Championships in February and the IBU World Cup event the following month at the same location.

Some members of the IBU hope, however, that the IBSF’s decision provokes a similar response from other Winter International Federations. Such aspirations will have only been escalated by the news that the IBU has received the names of 31 Russian biathletes implicated in the report’s findings, including three members of the team which won women’s 4x6 kilometres relay silver medal at Sochi 2014.

The IBU need not delay any sanctions regarding withdrawing events from Russia. After all, even Besseberg admitted it is not difficult to switch venues of competitions such as the World Cups - this can be the case early in the season if resorts do not receive the amount of snow to hold the tournament - telling VG that they can do this "in seven days".

Besseberg's only defence is the contradictory responses from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Their backtracking from the initial "provisional measures" in July - which urged Winter IFs to "freeze preparations" on events in Russia and to “actively seek alternative organisers" - has led to confusion among the sporting world and has given governing bodiess an easy escape route in the face of mounting criticism as to why they have not moved competitions from Russia. 

The IBU are under pressure to move their 2021 World Championships from Russia, awarded to Tyumen ©IBU
The IBU are under pressure to move their 2021 World Championships from Russia, awarded to Tyumen ©IBU

The confusion is evident in the decision from the IBSF, which, in theory, went against the IOC’s stance when they said the initial rulings of the Executive Board, given after the first McLaren Report, did not apply to events already given to Russia. A tenuous point, perhaps, but one that underlines the ambiguity caused by the IOC.

While the IOC’s reaction to the IBSF, which stated the bobsleigh and skeleton governing body’s call had been taken "fully in line with the recommendations of the Olympic Summit and the IOC Executive Board", was slightly misleading, it was good to see the organisation and its President Thomas Bach "welcome" their decision.

Similar action from the rest of the International Federations would also be welcome. Let us hope the IBSF's stance is the are the start of a trend rather an anomaly.