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Biathlon report outlines corrupt conduct, favors for Russia

Evgeny Ustyugov of Russia completes his 15-kilometer mass start biathon race at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, capturing the gold medal. The Biathlon Integrity Unit announced in October 2020 the Russian will be stripped of that medal for steroid use. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

SALZBURG, Austria (AP) — A report commissioned by the International Biathlon Union stated Thursday there was evidence of “systematic corrupt and unethical conduct at the very top” of the governing body, especially in protecting Russia on doping issues.

The report, published in a redacted version, accuses former IBU president Anders Besseberg of lobbying intensely for Russia’s interests while showing little appetite for pursuing doping cases which might embarrass the country.

It also said Besseberg, who ran biathlon for 25 years, was taken on hunting and fishing trips for free in Russia and had IBU employees transport his trophies home to Norway. The report cites evidence from a police investigation that Besseberg admitted he “received the service of a prostitute” while staying in Moscow, which he believed had been paid for by a third party.

The commission which wrote the report said Besseberg “appears, in the view of the Commission, to have had no regard for ethical values and no real interest in protecting the sport from cheating,” and that he did only the “absolute minimum” on anti-doping issues.

The report accuses the IBU leadership of repeated failures to even look for evidence in Russian doping cases. With regard to blood doping, the report says a cover-up was impossible because the athletes’ profiles hadn’t been checked for signs of doping.

There is testimony from Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, who said he overheard a conversation between two Russian officials about a sum of $200,000 to $300,000 which was supposedly paid to Besseberg and that Russia had “leverage” over Besseberg. The commission did not have access to bank account data, but said Norwegian authorities were investigating whether Besseberg illicitly received money or other benefits.

Former IBU general secretary Nicole Resch is accused of having failed to request extra testing of Russian athlete Evgeny Ustyugov at the doping-tainted 2014 Sochi Olympics after indications of “highly abnormal values” in his blood. Ustyugov went on to win a gold medal but was stripped of the honor last year after a ban over a separate allegation of past steroid use.

The report also said Resch offered “undercover” help with doping appeals by three Russians and tried to influence the chair of an anti-doping panel considering a case the IBU brought against another Russian.

Besseberg is also accused of failing to act on allegations of bribery, both when one Russian official supposedly tried to buy votes at an IBU congress and when Resch said she was offered a jewelry box by another official in 2008 or 2009 when doping cases were being investigated. She said she did not accept the box or open it.

Both Besseberg and Resch stepped down from their posts in 2018, shortly after a raid on the IBU’s headquarters by Austrian police. Neither has been charged or convicted of a crime. The report said Besseberg declined to answer questions while a criminal investigation into his conduct remains open, and Resch said she couldn’t be interviewed for health reasons.

Besides his IBU role, Besseberg was formerly a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s foundation board representing Winter Olympic sports until he stepped down in 2018.

“The allegations featured in this report are abhorrent to all who care about sport integrity,” WADA president Witold Banka said in a statement. “However, it is to the credit of the IBU that in the wake of this scandal, it has taken significant steps to enhance the integrity of its anti-doping program.”

The report could lead to more athletes being charged over past doping offenses. Jonathan Taylor, who chaired the commission, said it unearthed a previously unnoticed tactic used by the Russian anti-doping agency from 2012-14 to conceal apparent doping.

Taylor said it involved holding on to suspicious blood data and entering it into the global anti-doping system only much later, so that “the values found of athlete biological samples were not matched to the athlete until many months or years after the fact.”

Evidence which wasn’t acted on while Besseberg and Resch ran the IBU was still available for other investigations, Taylor said, as was a syringe containing traces of blood and the banned substance EPO. The syringe was found discarded at a World Cup venue in 2015 but a DNA sample from the blood was never matched with any athlete.