Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Russia was reduced to the status of a provisional, non-voting member of the International Biathlon Union (IBU) on December 10 of last year. Yet it remains central to the prospects and fortunes of this beleaguered international sports federation which has, in the space of the last three years, plumbed depths unmatched - as yet - by any other.

On Friday (September 7) the IBU Congress in the Croatian city of Poreč will vote in a new President. 

Baiba Broka, the former Latvian Minister of Justice, and Swedish Olympic Committee Executive Board member Olle Dahlin will contest the right to replace the man who led the organisation since its initiation in 1993 until he stepped down in April this year, Anders Besseberg.

The 72-year-old Norwegian, along with the IBU's former secretary general Nicole Resch, is at the centre of a criminal prosecution focusing on allegations of doping, fraud and corruption.

Besseberg and Resch are suspected of accepting bribes amounting to $300,000 (£211,000/€243,000) and other benefits in return for a favourable stance towards Russia - but both deny wrongdoing.

This is surely the lowest point for the IBU, whose international reputation has spiralled downwards since the allegations of systematic doping abuse by Russian athletes at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games broke in the media. 

This was prompted by the whistle-blowing of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia's anti-doping laboratory.

The charges were then re-stated through the two-stage McLaren Report in July and December of 2016, initiated by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and also through the subsequent findings of the Oswald Commission on behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Anders Besseberg, who stepped down as IBU President in April, is facing allegations connected with doping, fraud and corruption ©Getty Images
Anders Besseberg, who stepped down as IBU President in April, is facing allegations connected with doping, fraud and corruption ©Getty Images

In September 2016, to the consternation of many outside and inside the sport, the IBU voted to award Tyumen, in Russia, the 2021 World Championships. This was despite the IOC Executive Board's recommendation following the first McLaren Report that Winter Federations "freeze preparations" for any major event in Russia and "seek alternative hosts".

The IOC backtracked on this stance, telling Winter Federations the ruling only applied to future candidacies from Russia and not bid processes which had already started or events which had previously been awarded to the country.

But giving the Russian city the 2021 World Championships was also a direct violation of the WADA code, of which the IBU is a signatory.

The Code says it is the "responsibility" of the International Federations to "do everything possible to award World Championships only to countries where the Government has ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to the UNESCO Convention, and where the National Olympic Committee, National Paralympic Committee and National Anti-Doping Organisation are in compliance with the Code".

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) has been non-compliant since November 2015.

WADA then gave the IBU until January 2017 to reverse its decision or face becoming non-compliant.

Prior to an Extraordinary Board meeting in January, a letter signed by 170 athletes was sent to the IBU calling for "resolute action" against Russian doping. At that Board meeting, the IBU dismissed cases against 22 of the 29 Russian athletes named in the McLaren Report, claiming "there is no sufficient evidence for the other athletes for the time being".

After getting an extension of their deadline from WADA, the IBU agreed in February 2017 to remove the 2021 World Championships from Tyumen. 

The IBU then made its decision to relegate Russia to provisional membership due to the "substantial number of recent doping convictions" and to encourage a more active response.

But there was no change on the decision to host this year's World Cup finals in Tyumen, which had forfeited its chance to hold the same event in 2017.

Those finals went ahead in March - and were boycotted by Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, the United States and Ukraine, as well as other individuals including Sweden’s Olympic pursuit silver medallist Sebastian Samuelsson and Slovenia's Klemen Bauer.

IBU officials, such as Canadian vice-president James Carrabre, also spoke out against the decision to allow the World Cup finals to be held in Tyumen as planned.

And concerns were expressed to the IBU Athlete Committee by fellow competitors, who claimed the organisation had failed to protect clean athletes.

Nicole Resch, also facing corruption charges, has taken
Nicole Resch, also facing corruption charges, has taken "leave of absence" from her role ©Getty Images

One competitor on the circuit sent a letter to both Besseberg and Resch, claiming that "by continuing to host events in Russia, the IBU is clearly showing that money is more important than the safety of athletes".

Biathlon challenges ice hockey for popularity in Russia, which is reported to have more than 10,000 biathletes.

In April this year it was reported that Austria's Federal Criminal Police Office had carried out a search of the IBU headquarters in Salzburg as part of an investigation linked to doping allegations.

It was later confirmed that the investigation had been prompted by a tip-off from WADA, following information received from Rodchenkov, and that it was focused on Besseberg and Resch.

Rodchenkov claimed to Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the IBU had ignored suspicious blood passport results registered by Russian biathletes.

Instead of investigating the cases, he said, they sent information back to Russia and RUSADA.

"Russia received sensitive information from IBU, with a message to take care of it," Rodchenkov reportedly said.

"But for untrue reasons, IBU would not go into depth and investigate Russian practitioners and their abnormal, extremely abnormal, biological passports."

Resch took "leave of absence" and on April 12, Besseberg stepped down, being temporarily replaced by Austria's Klaus Leister, an IBU vice-president responsible for finance.

As well as investigating bribes, police also revealed they were treating €35,000 (£19,000/$27,000) earned in prize money as fraudulent earnings if it had been awarded to athletes implicated in doping cases who should not have been cleared to compete.

Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang reported it was alleged that 65 doping cases involving Russian biathletes had been concealed, starting in 2011.

They also noted that 17 out of 22 Russians who had competed the previous season during the World Cup and IBU Cup had proven cases of doping.

WADA revealed they shared information with Austrian and Norwegian law enforcement, as well as Interpol.

"I did not hide a single doping test," Besseberg told Norwegian website Nettavisen.

"I do not understand what's going on.

Concerns were expressed to the IBU Athlete Committee this year by competitors, who claimed the organisation had failed to protect clean athletes ©Getty Images
Concerns were expressed to the IBU Athlete Committee this year by competitors, who claimed the organisation had failed to protect clean athletes ©Getty Images

"Rodchenkov wants to draw attention to his person.

"Did I receive money from Russia to 'support their interests'?


"What worries me most is that the current situation affects the reputation of biathlon."

There are some parallels here with the situation in which the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) found itself in 2015.

The bad news there began to emerge soon after the election of a new President, albeit that the then incumbent, Lamine Diack, only fell into disgrace after he had come to the end of his term of office. 

He has been under house arrest in Paris since 2015 as French police investigate him on charges of corruption.

The similarities with regard to the election hold only insofar as one candidate was from western Europe, namely Britain's Sebastian Coe, and the other, Sergey Bubka, from a nation that had previously been part of the Soviet Union - in this case Ukraine. And they were seeking to preside over a sport that was, as events were shortly to confirm, at a crisis point over doping and corruption issues.

Given that Coe won the vote by 115 votes to 92 we never got to see how the former world pole vault record holder would have fared as he attempted to implement a manifesto that included a business commission to maximise commercial revenue, and increased grants and assistance for national federations.

As far as Coe is concerned, he has acted decisively in many of the areas he flagged up, most crucially initiating the creation of an independent anti-doping agency which was among the most important points in his manifesto. The Athletics Integrity Unit, which recently released details of more than 100 cases it is investigating - half of which involve Russian athletes - started operation in April last year.

Coe also took a strong line as the IAAF imposed a ban on Russian track and field athletes competing in international competition, when the full details of that country's doping infractions began to emerge.

The ban - which mirrors that of the International Paralympic Committee - stands, although many Russians who have satisfied anti-doping requirements have since returned to competition as, for the moment, Authorised Neutral Athletes.

But what of the manifesto promises of the two IBU Presidential candidates?

Broka, who departed her Ministerial role in controversial circumstances after being denied national security clearance by the Constitution Protection Bureau, insists she will repair the damage done by the recent scandals if she is elected.

Baiba Broka, the former Latvian Minister of Justice, is seeking to become IBU President at the election on Friday in Croatia ©Getty Images
Baiba Broka, the former Latvian Minister of Justice, is seeking to become IBU President at the election on Friday in Croatia ©Getty Images  

"The reputation of the IBU suffered a lot after the investigation process regarding possible corruption and doping issues against Mr Besseberg and Nicole Resch started," the 42-year-old said in an interview with Latvian news agency LETA last week.

"Even before, after the Sochi Olympic Games and McLaren Report, there were letters and requests from athletes demanding immediate actions from IBU management side: to provide information, explanations, to change rules and provide stricter penalties.

"Based on my experience in working in other international and professional organisations, I consider that there should be a very transparent and clear structure how to deal with possible violations and information about possible violations either related to doping, or corruption, or against fair game principles."

For his part, Dahlin also insisted that he would make repairing the IBU's reputation a key priority if he was elected.

Term limits and a revamped code of ethics - both of which are expected to be implemented at this week's Congress - are two of the means by which those repairs can happen, with Dahlin adding he would order a review of the entire IBU constitution.

"The reputation has been damaged and it will take some time but I am really prepared to spend my time to build this up and restore it as fast as possible," said Dahlin, who has released a manifesto entitled "Taking Biathlon Into a New Era".

"The new President must take the time to have clear, face-to-face communication with our stakeholders and I am prepared to do this.

"This is how you build confidence and trust between people.”

He has also targeted making biathlon "the clean sport", adding: "We know that athletes for example, they lack some confidence in our anti-doping work.

"I think it is whole kit of things to do.

"It is not only that we do this testing but we also have to give the athletes much information so they are aware and they can question when things are happening in national federations.

"That platform is important.

Olle Dahlin of Sweden is also running for the Presidency ©Olle Dahlin
Olle Dahlin of Sweden is also running for the Presidency ©Olle Dahlin

"Then of course we have to overlook how we do the control with the testing and efficiency of that."

Coe and Bubka conducted their campaigns with decorum and virtually no reference to each other, although the Ukrainian made a not so subtle reference to his rival's other business interests as he stressed how important it was for the IAAF Presidency to be a full-time job.

The campaign to become only the second President in the IBU's history has generated a little more heat. And as in so many international sports federations at the moment, it is the Russian issue that is proving combustible.

Last month, Dahlin, currently IBU vice-president for development, told insidethegames he was aware of the rumours of heavy Russian lobbying on behalf of Broka, whose emergence in June as a rival candidate he described as "a surprise".

The rumours have suggested that Broka would have a more sympathetic stance towards Russia as it seeks to make a return to full membership as part of a wider push to regain full status across international sporting competitions.

Broka then told insidethegames that Dahlin was resorting to "ad hominem attacks" because he had "not come up with any real tangible policy proposals shared among Member Federations for the future of the IBU".

"Spreading rumours or facts which cannot be verified or proved, or one sided interpretations, is not the style which I consider to be appropriate during the campaign," Broka said.

"I have no information that Russia is lobbying me."

In an interview with LETA, Broka said: "It's regrettable that such an experienced, respectable and intelligent gentleman as Dalin has chosen, in my opinion, low-lying and dirty methods in the struggle for the Presidency of IBU."

Broka also insisted she was as qualified as Dahlin to take on the top job.

"I consider our experience within IBU equal," Broka said.

"I am a member of the IBU Legal Committee for the last four years, same as Mr Dahlin in the Executive Board.

The sport of biathlon is at a pivotal crossroads ©Getty Images
The sport of biathlon is at a pivotal crossroads ©Getty Images

"For a person to lead not only years matter but also attitude, professional experience, personal qualities and values that form the way how different leaders choose to lead an organisation and to lead people.

"There is no doubt that for change to take place there has to be a modern approach that reflects the values of the current generation."

On Thursday (August 30) the IBU announced four more anti-doping violations involving Russian athletes. Russian media reported those implicated were Olympic gold medallists Svetlana Sleptsova and Evgeny Ustyugov, as well as Alexander Pechenkin and Alexander Chernyshov.

It is thought the cases have been brought against the athletes based on the McLaren Report and the Moscow Laboratory Information Management System database obtained by WADA.

On Friday (August 31), Broka claimed it was "unlikely" that the emergence of the four fresh doping cases would hamper Russia's bid for reinstatement as a full member of the worldwide governing body.

Her statement came despite her additional warning that more athletes from Russia might be charged with anti-doping rule violations as it "cannot be ruled out that new information about violations by Russian athletes in the past will come out".

Three years ago Sam Bacharach, one of the key speakers at The Academy -  an international conference in Lausanne for ambitious sports leaders organised by TSE Consulting - discussed with insidethegames the essence of leadership.

Bachararch, the McKelvey-Grant Professor in the Department of Organisational Behaviour at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York State, said: "Leadership is to do with the capacity of individuals to mobilise agendas. It's about having the behavioural skills to move the agenda.

"It's not enough just to come up with a great idea. We are concerned with what are the fine details. Who do you form a coalition with? Who do you talk to?"

That might turn out to be a profoundly important factor in this case.