Reedie: IBU raids show effectiveness of WADA's I&I unit
By Callum Murray at SportAccord in Bangkok
The crisis that has overtaken the International Biathlon Union, with both its president Anders Besseberg and its secretary general Nicole Resch stepping down while prosecutors in Austria and Norway look into allegations of doping, fraud and corruption involving Russian athletes and officials in the sport, is evidence of the effectiveness of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s independent Intelligence & Investigations unit, according to WADA president Craig Reedie.
The raids are understood to have been prompted by information passed on by the unit to Austrian and Norwegian law enforcement agencies, as well as to Interpol.
Speaking on the sidelines of the SportAccord convention here in Bangkok, Reedie told Sportcal: “The Intelligence & Investigations unit has developed into probably the most effective such department in the world of sport. They operate independently from WADA officialdom and management, and also operate the whistleblowers’ programme called ‘Speak Up’.
WADA’s I&I department was set up in 2015 to encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information about doping in sport, with that intelligence then used to conduct investigations.
In a recent interview with NRK, the Norwegian public-service broadcaster, Grigory Rodchenkov, the Russian doping whistleblower who was the former chief of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, claimed that IBU officials knew of Russian athletes’ biological passports being “manipulated and sabotaged,” but took no action.
Rodchenkov, who is under witness protection in USA, claimed that there had been “collusion between the two sides [the IBU and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency] for a long time.”
The informant's truthfulness, and motives for giving evidence, having himself been part of the alleged Russian doping conspiracy, have been the subject of much controversy, but it is understood that the I&I unit was relying on evidence from more than one whistleblower.
Reedie said that he would be seeking a recommendation from the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations for a replacement for Besseberg, who was the winter federations’ representative on WADA’s board. Having stood down as the IBU president, Besseberg automatically forfeited the WADA position.
The WKSTA, Austria’s corruption prosecutor, said in a statement last week that the alleged wrongdoing, which included Russian doping cases being covered up in return for bribes, covered a period from 2012 until the February 2017 Biathlon World Championships in Austria.
Prosecutors said the bribes amount to $300,000, and that they were also treating $35,000 in prize money as fraudulent earnings, if won by athletes who doped and should have been banned.
If the allegations are proven, it threatened those involved with fines or imprisonment.
Reedie declined to comment on those allegations directly, given that they are based on evidence that has been provided independently of WADA, but pointed out that the agency “has had issues with biathlon. There have been issues over venues selected by the IBU for its international competitions.”
The IBU is regarded by many as having close ties with Russia, and has faced criticism of its approach to doping, notably its opposition to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to allow only a limited number of ‘clean’ Russian athletes to compete in the PyeongChang winter Olympics, but as neutral athletes and not in the name of Team Russia.
In addition, several nations boycotted last month’s World Cup Finals after the governing body refused to move the event away from the Siberian resort of Tyumen, despite the doping scandal in Russia.
Earlier, the IBU had come under pressure for not withdrawing its IBU World Championships in 2021 from Tyumen, albeit the Russian Biathlon Union eventually complied with an invitation to hand back the hosting rights in February last year.
The invitation was issued in the wake of the findings of the McLaren report into the Russian doping scandal, which cited some 31 biathletes, albeit the IBU cleared 22 of them, claiming “there is no sufficient evidence.”
Separately, Reedie played down legal action launched by the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation against WADA in a court in Lausanne last month over WADA’s rejection of IMMAF’s application to become a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code.
Reedie vowed to speak to IMMAF’s senior officials at SportAccord over the next few days in a bid to resolve the issue.
IMMAF applied to WADA to become a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code in June 2016, but, despite having been recognised as code-compliant, was turned down, on what it has described as “political grounds.”
IMMAF’s application for membership of the Global Alliance of International Sports Federations (formerly SportAccord), was also rejected, “a totally unsatisfactory situation,” which, Densign White, its chief executive, said, left it with “no alternative but to take things to another level.”
IMMAF contends that WADA has been influenced by GAISF not to allow it to become a signatory to the code, and that GAISF itself has been motivated to deny IMMAF membership of the umbrella body of sports federations by existing combat sports that fear competition from mixed martial arts.
White said: “We know other combat sports don’t want IMMAF to become a member because they feel threatened by the sport. Maybe they’re frightened they might lose their position in the queue to become IOC-recognised, and then to become an Olympic sport. Those that already are [Olympic sports] might feel their sport is at risk of being kicked out.”
White also argued that WADA had compromised its independence by allowing itself to be influenced by GAISF. He said: “My view is that WADA should be independent, and should not need to ask a third party about the merits of an application.”
However, Reedie said that WADA’s response was dictated by an agreement with GAISF intended to prevent federations from using code-compliancy as leverage in their efforts to gain membership of GAISF. He said: “We have had for many years a potential issue that people wanted to become signatories, because that was a step to additional recognition.
“Our agreement with GAISF is that we will not take someone that offends their decision-making process. To an extent we get stuck in the middle, but at the moment one of the attractions of SportAccord is the opportunity to resolve such issues.”