Liam Morgan

Legendary American basketball star Michael Jordan once urged the world to "always turn a negative situation into a positive situation" in one of his trademark philosophical soundbites.

International Biathlon Union (IBU) Athletes Committee chairperson Clare Egan appears to have heeded the call from her compatriot. Following the scandal engulfing the governing body following the opening of a criminal investigation into the previous leadership, the American is doing exactly that.

Egan believes the departures of President Anders Besseberg and secretary general Nicole Resch - both of whom deny wrongdoing - might be the fresh start the IBU has needed for so long.

"If this scandal results in the elimination of corruption from within our organisation, then that's the best possible outcome given the current scenario," Egan told insidethegames.

"Of course the best scenario is zero corruption, but the second-best scenario is zero tolerance for corruption.

"Corrupt leadership is the root of all sorts of problems, but good leadership can solve any problem and doping is a perfect example of one such problem.

"While this is traumatic for the organisation in the short term, my hope is that it will be much better off in the long term."

While it does not get much worse than those who are supposed to be guardians and protectors of the sport covering up positive drugs test for financial gain - it is alleged that 65 doping cases involving Russian biathletes were concealed, starting in 2011 - there are plenty at the embattled governing body who go along with this view.

One other official told me recently that the IBU has a much brighter future now, even if it must deal with its darker past first.

IBU Athlete Committee chair Clare Egan claimed the corruption scandal could be the change biathlon needs ©Getty Images
IBU Athlete Committee chair Clare Egan claimed the corruption scandal could be the change biathlon needs ©Getty Images

The criminal investigation, concerning possible doping, fraud and corruption involving Russian athletes following a raiding of the organisation’s headquarters based on a tip-off by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has already prompted action at the IBU.

An audit of their anti-doping programme, conducted by the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations, is underway, along with a restructure of the administration, while an Ethics Committee is also being in the process of being established - a step long overdue.

Egan has praised the moves made so far but says more needs to be done if the IBU is to repair its shattered reputation.

"The IBU has already taken some of the necessary steps," the 30-year-old, who represented the United States at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, said.

"The Executive Board decided in May to order an external audit of its anti-doping work; it is forming an independent Ethics Committee, and it has restructured the management team so as to diffuse power.

"One additional step I would like to see is an independent inquiry into the IBU's overall governance and integrity."

Such an inquiry would not only ensure a similar scenario never arises again but would also help international biathletes, many of whom had become disillusioned with the IBU’s governance even before the latest scandal emerged, regain their trust in a system which has failed them.

It is all well and good investigating, Egan says, but the need for a probe which follows an "efficient timeline" is paramount if athletes are to ever have faith in the powers-that-be at the IBU again.

"The most important thing is that we can trust the legal systems. There will always be people who act dishonestly, but if they are consistently held accountable, then we can continue to train and compete in confidence that the truth will win," Egan, who is set to become a member of the Executive Board in September, added.

"That said, at some point justice that takes too long is no longer justice. The efficient timeline of an investigation is thus of critical importance."

Clare Egan represented the United States at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
Clare Egan represented the United States at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

It is always refreshing to hear an athlete’s viewpoint. After all, there are far too many competitors who champion athletes' rights yet hide behind their communications army when asked for their opinion on issues such as corruption and doping.

A significant portion of the IBU athlete community went much further than merely speaking out when biathletes from countries including the US, Canada, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Sweden and Britain boycotted the World Cup finals in Tyumen in protest at the worldwide governing body allowing the event to remain in Russia.

Their decision to vote with their feet did not go unnoticed at the IBU, finally forced to sit up and take notice after decades of ignoring their athletes and their concerns.

Even IBU vice-president James Carrabre of Canada deemed this unacceptable as he publicly denounced the grand finale to their flagship series of competitions taking place in Russia as planned, despite the country’s well-documented doping scandal.

"First, we should send a signal because there were these doping offences from Russia," he told German broadcaster ZDF back in March.

"Secondly, the athletes do not believe that their doping samples given there are safely treated and third, the athletes are worried about their safety."

The IBU, however, turned a blind eye to all of this. "It's undeniably a sign of poor leadership when the complaints and concerns of a large portion of constituents are ignored," Egan said.

Perhaps the most concerning and depressing element to the entire scandal is that many saw it coming. They were not surprised to hear the talk and read the headlines when it all finally came out.

A recent survey conducted by the IBU Athletes Committee only reinforces this. Egan claimed that over 80 per cent of respondents said the organisation’s response to doping was "too weak", a damning statistic if ever there was one.

Anders Besseberg stepped down as IBU President after the opening of the criminal investigation ©Getty Images
Anders Besseberg stepped down as IBU President after the opening of the criminal investigation ©Getty Images

Again, it is not surprising. Before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, even Besseberg conceded the IBU were dealing with "systematic doping on a large scale in one of the strongest teams of the world" when referring to Russian biathlon at the time.

More recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Oswald Commission verdict against Russian biathlete Olga Zaitseva was among the strongest in terms of evidence. It ticked every box.

It claimed the double Olympic champion, stripped of her Sochi 2014 relay silver medal, was a knowing participant in the state-sponsored doping scheme. Zaitseva and fellow biathletes Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina gave samples which had marks indicative of tampering and were found to contain abnormal levels of salt.

It has been suggested that the trio, whose Court of Arbitration for Sport hearings were pushed back to after the conclusion of Pyeongchang 2018 and where verdicts are yet to be announced, have been ostracised by the rest of the Russian athletes involved in the "systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system at Sochi 2014.

This is supposedly because of the strength of the evidence against them. Their cases are what prosecutors would call a slam dunk.

So what can the IBU Athletes Committee, who elected Egan as chairperson in March, do to improve the perception of the IBU?

"I hope our Committee can impel the IBU to do a better job upholding its constitutional objective: ‘to promote doping-free biathlon,"Egan said.

"We started by presenting the Executive Board with some very strong statistics from our spring athlete survey.

"For example, over 80 per cent of respondents said the IBU's response to doping is too weak.

"Not all athletes can or want to speak out publicly on this topic, so our survey was a powerful tool with which to communicate mass discontent. I hope that our Committee can work with - not against - IBU leaders in order to improve statistics like this one.

"They have a lot of work to do but they are listening and sincere in their desire to improve."

Sebastian Samuelsson was among the athletes to boycott the IBU World Cup finals in Tyumen ©Getty Images
Sebastian Samuelsson was among the athletes to boycott the IBU World Cup finals in Tyumen ©Getty Images

No topic is off limits with Egan, who had positioned herself as a strong advocate for athletes and their rights before assuming the role of IBU Athletes Committee chairperson three months ago.

The American is even happy to speak on the recent attempt from IOC officials and the sports movement to get the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) reinstated at a fractious meeting of the WADA Foundation Board in Montreal in May.

A letter sent by Russian authorities on the eve of the Executive Committee neeting was deemed by some as fulfilling one of two outstanding criteria RUSADA needs to meet before it can be declared compliant by WADA - a public acceptance of the McLaren Report and its findings.

The public authorities, and the vast majority of the athlete community within WADA, disagreed. 

The contents of the letter, admitting there had been a "serious crisis which has affected the Russian sports was caused by some unacceptable manipulations of the anti-doping system", were even disputed in Russia as Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov denied they had backed down and said the McLaren Report was full of "unsubstantiated conclusions".

Access to the Moscow Laboratory and the samples stored there, the other oustanding criteria on the compliance roadmap, has still not been granted but there are claims RUSADA could be reinstated sooner rather than later as WADA's Compliance Review Committee are due to analyse the letter on Thursday (June 14).

The 30-year-old American criticised the IOC for their stance on RUSADA's compliance ©Getty Images
The 30-year-old American criticised the IOC for their stance on RUSADA's compliance ©Getty Images

"I can only speak for myself, but I strongly support the terms of the roadmap to compliance, which were agreed upon by all parties," said Egan, who was in attendance at the Montreal meeting. 

"Renegotiating the terms of the roadmap would be extremely harmful to WADA's credibility.

"I was disheartened to see the IOC advocating for reinstatement without compliance. I think it is extremely short-sighted to promote a deal that may be politically favourable in the short term but which has long-term disastrous consequences for the global clean sport movement."

Despite the challenges which still remain for the IBU, and sport in general, Egan, demonstrating the positive mantra evident throughout our brief chat in Montreal last month which preceded this interview, is confident they can indeed turn a negative situation into a positive one.

"If the IBU takes all the necessary steps to ensure transparency, then even in light of a major scandal, they can begin to rebuild their reputation and sport can take centre stage again," she said.