Austria probes doping, fraud, corruption in biathlon
The longtime president of the International Biathlon Union stepped down Thursday as Austrian prosecutors investigate the organization for possible doping offenses, fraud and corruption.
Police raided the IBU’s headquarters in Salzburg on Tuesday on a tipoff that Russian doping cases had been covered up in return for bribes.
Prosecutors said the alleged wrongdoing covered a period from 2012 until the February 2017 world championships in Austria – much more recent than most Russian doping scandals.
Prosecutors also said the bribes amount to $300,000. They said they are also treating $35,000 in prize money as fraudulent earnings if it was won by athletes who doped and should have been banned.
The case spans three countries, with searches also conducted in Norway and Germany.
The IBU said Thursday that Anders Besseberg, the only president in the organization’s 25-year history, ”is stepping down from his position as long as the investigation is ongoing.”
Besseberg had been expected to leave his post later this year rather than run for a new term. He is one of the longest-serving officials in any Olympic sport.
The IBU board also suspended general secretary Nicole Resch a day after saying she had taken a leave of absence.
The acting IBU president will be Klaus Leitner, an Austrian who had been in charge of finances. A senior Russian official, Viktor Maygurov, had been next in line for the presidency after Besseberg but didn’t want the job, the IBU said.
Hours after Besseberg stepped down, Russia said a double Olympic gold medalist was under investigation for suspicious blood data.
The head of the Russian Biathlon Union, Alexander Kravtsov, told state news agencies Thursday that the IBU had flagged up an ”abnormal biological passport” for Evgeny Ustyugov, who won two gold medals at the 2010 Olympics.
Kravtsov said the IBU had informed him of the case last year and added that Ustyugov – who retired in 2014 – had natural abnormalities in his blood. It wasn’t clear whether his case was linked to the criminal investigation, or why it emerged so long after he retired.
The World Anti-Doping Agency has said its investigation department provided information which led to the raids, and a lawyer for Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov said he was involved. Besseberg sits on the WADA board as a representative of Winter Olympic sports.
Russian doping scandals have torn apart the sport of biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and shooting.
The American, Canadian and Czech teams all boycotted last month’s World Cup finals after the IBU refused to move the event from Russia. Numerous Russian athletes, including Olympic medalists, have been banned for doping in recent years.
At the 2017 world championships – a focus of the Austrian investigation – French athlete Martin Fourcade walked out of a post-race podium ceremony following a dispute with Alexander Loginov, a Russian who had recently returned from a doping ban.
Asked about the Austrian police raids, the International Olympic Committee said Thursday it had ”full confidence in (WADA) and the authorities to deal with this issue.”
The IOC declined to say if Olympic revenues due to the IBU from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games could be withheld. The IOC’s executive board next meets on May 2-3 in Lausanne.
Resch is a German lawyer who has been the IBU’s top administrator since 2008. The IOC said her suspension meant she would also be removed from a panel assessing preparations for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. It is next due to visit China on Sept. 16-18.
Resch was previously assistant to Michael Geistlinger, her Austrian predecessor as IBU general secretary. Geistlinger had a key role in the wider Russian doping saga in January as one of four Court of Arbitration for Sport judges selected to hear appeals by athletes against lifetime Olympic bans for doping linked to the 2014 Sochi Games.
A total of 28 Russians had their IOC-imposed sanctions overturned, and 11 bans were upheld. Three cases involving Russian biathletes were postponed.