Liam Morgan ©ITG

To understand the frustration and anger among athletes towards the International Biathlon Union (IBU), you need only look at page 33 of the Oswald Commission reasoned decision on Russian athlete Olga Zaitseva.

If ever there was a case to highlight the deep-rooted nature of the doping scheme in place in Russia, the words on that page provide it.

Samples provided by Zaitseva, among the three biathletes stripped of their Sochi 2014 relay silver medals for their role in the "systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system at the Games in the Russian city, ticked every deceitful box imaginable.

Evidence of tampering, DNA abnormalities and physiologically-impossible levels of salt; a full house of deception.

For good measure, the document adds: "Dr Rodchenkov further states that the entire Russian biathlete team, including the athlete Zaitseva, has been using the Duchess Cocktail before the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

"Based on all the above elements, the Disciplinary Commission has no hesitation to conclude that it is more than comfortably satisfied that the athlete was a participant in, and a beneficiary of, the cover-up scheme implemented on the occasion of the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014."

The release of the document in December sparked indignation among a large part of the biathlon world. Those who were shocked by its findings thought it would be enough for the IBU to finally introduce tough sanctions on one its most important countries.

Yet here we are, three months on, and still we wait.

Yes, the IBU had already relegated Russia from a full to a provisional member but in truth, that means little.

The reasoned decision on Olga Zaitseva from the IOC was one of the stronger verdicts delivered ©Getty Images
The reasoned decision on Olga Zaitseva from the IOC was one of the stronger verdicts delivered ©Getty Images

Athletes from Russia are still free to compete in major events dressed in the colours of their country and can sing the national anthem during victory ceremonies.

Russian Victor Maygurov is still the first vice-president, yielding considerable power within the IBU leadership, and competitors from the country were free to participate at Pyeongchang 2018 as part of the Olympic Athletes from Russia squad, providing they met the required criteria.

So, no real punishment there then.

The IBU then had the chance to take a stand and show they are serious about protecting clean athletes when they discussed the possibility of stripping Tyumen of next month’s World Cup Final.

Instead, the IBU Executive Board decided the event should remain in the Russian city after they claimed it was awarded to Tyumen before the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was declared non-compliant in November 2015.

So, again, no real punishment there then.

The Oswald Commission document outlines clear evidence against the Russian biathlon team ©IOC
The Oswald Commission document outlines clear evidence against the Russian biathlon team ©IOC

In a statement confirming American athletes would boycott the event in Tyumen, US Biathlon said the decision of the IBU Executive Board was "completely unacceptable" and a "an outrageous message of anti-doping indifference to the world".

It is not just the Americans either, as teams from the Czech Republic and Canada are also considering a boycott.

Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson, winner of an silver medal in the pursuit event here, also criticised the IBU last week. He said he was "disappointed" with the IBU and hoped a boycott of the event might follow.

The Russian response was not unexpected; yet more threats towards athletes from online trolls.

Similar abuse was given to the Czech Republic’s Gabriela Koukalová when the disqualification of Zaitseva, Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina from Sochi 2014 was confirmed.

This has been typical of Russia in recent years. Look at the scorn and hatred sent the way of former Moscow Laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, subjected to consistent threats since he blew the whistle on the entire scandal.

"In support of clean sport and our own physical safety, we cannot in good conscience participate,"US Biathlon said.

"The message from the athletes was clear. With Russia still being out of compliance with the World Anti-Doping Agency Code, with threats of physical harm to athletes who travel to Russia, with six athletes already sanctioned by IBU and the IOC from the 2014 Olympic season and another case awaiting a decision, holding the World Cup Final in Russia now sends an outrageous message of anti-doping indifference to the world."

More than 30 athletes wrote to the IBU Athlete Committee last month to express their dissatisfaction with the world governing body and frustration has only grown with the decision to allow Tyumen to remain as hosts.

Gabriela Koukalová is among the athletes to have been subjected to abuse from Russian trolls ©Getty Images
Gabriela Koukalová is among the athletes to have been subjected to abuse from Russian trolls ©Getty Images

It is little wonder, as the inconsistencies in the approach taken by the IBU are striking.

Over a year ago, following the publication of the McLaren Report two months previously, Tyumen was stripped of the right to stage the 2021 IBU World Championships.

It was unquestionably the correct call but it came when the McLaren Report’s findings were labelled as mere allegations.

Now, 12 months on, those allegations have turned into cold, hard evidence, corroborated by, not one, but two IOC investigations, and still the IBU do not feel the need to take action.

What’s more is the ongoing lack of contrition from Russia and, in this case, from the biathletes at the centre of the saga.

The three athletes sanctioned have now launched a lawsuit against Rodchenkov, claiming he had defamed them all by linking them to the Sochi 2014 scandal. It is another example of Russia’s protracted mission to discredit and smear the reputation of a man who fears for his life each and every day.

Their lawsuit is backed by Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian oligarch and owner of National Basketball Association team Brooklyn Nets, who was President of the Russian Biathlon Union before and during Sochi 2014. 

Their efforts to secure $10 million (£7 million/€8 million) in damages looks extremely frivolous but is a further demonstration of Russia’s refusal to admit they have done anything wrong.

Sebastian Samuelsson of Sweden has been an outspoken critic of the IBU ©Getty Images
Sebastian Samuelsson of Sweden has been an outspoken critic of the IBU ©Getty Images

"We fully support the right of clean Russian athletes to compete and share the opinion that Russia should be eligible to host IBU World Cups in the future; but only after they have shown a meaningful commitment to rectifying the doping culture which has been shown to exist there," added the US Biathlon statement.

While such commitment does not appear likely anytime soon, the impasse between athletes and the IBU is likely to continue.

After all, the IBU have not listened to their most important stakeholders so far and have shown little sign of doing so in the future.

Public criticism and boycott threats from athletes will fall on deaf ears. 

For those competitors, apathy from the governing body which is supposed to protect them is nothing new.