The U.S. Biathlon team will boycott the final World Cup series event of the season, citing an "unacceptable" decision by the sport's international governing body to keep the competition in Russia despite the lack of progress in anti-doping reform there.
Canadian biathlon officials already have said that team will not participate in the March 19-26 event in the Siberian city of Tyumen. Agence France Presse on Friday quoted Czech media reports stating that team also would not compete in the final at Tyumen, where the prestigious season-ending trophies will be presented.
The growing athlete resistance to competing in Russia comes at a critical juncture for the International Olympic Committee, which will decide within the next 24 hours whether to lift the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee before the closing ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea, thus allowing the Russian delegation to march in with its national flag and colors. Russian athletes and support staff vetted by two IOC panels have been competing under the designation of Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Athletes from multiple nations pressed the International Biathlon Union to relocate the final event, but the IBU executive board voted to keep it in Tyumen during meetings held Feb. 13-14 in Pyeongchang.
"In support of clean sport and our own physical safety, we cannot in good conscience participate,'' the U.S. athletes said in a statement released Saturday, the day after the biathlon competition concluded at the Pyeongchang Games.
"The outcry from our fellow athletes from around the world has been respectful, strong and definitive,'' the statement said. "In addition to the dozens who expressed their opinion to the IBU Athletes Committee members ahead of the meeting in January 2018, the IBU received letters representing over 30 athletes, from eight countries, and included three 2018 Olympic champions.
"The message from the athletes was clear. With Russia still being out of compliance with the [World Anti-Doping Agency] Code, with threats of physical harm to athletes who travel to Russia, with six athletes already sanctioned by IBU and the IOC from the 2014 Olympic season and another case awaiting a decision, holding the World Cup Final in Russia now sends an outrageous message of anti-doping indifference to the world.
"We fully support the right of clean Russian athletes to compete and share the opinion that Russia should be eligible to host IBU World Cups in the future; but only after they have shown a meaningful commitment to rectifying the doping culture which has been shown to exist there.
"We believe the overwhelming majority of IBU World Cup biathletes choose to compete clean. We stand united in the protection of every athlete's fundamental right to participate in doping-free sport and will bear any burden to promote fairness, equality and health for athletes worldwide."
In January, world 20-kilometer individual champion Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, New York, told ESPN that keeping the event in Tyumen would be "a huge, huge affront to clean athletes. That's saying to the world, to the athletes on the World Cup, the IBU executive board has no problem with doping, and they actually, in a sense, reward federations that dope. Because that's a reward. It's a monetary reward, pride, all of those things."
World mass start silver medalist Susan Dunklee, of Craftsbury, Vermont, who received threats on social media after speaking out about anti-doping, told ESPN, "Tensions are so high right now, [competing in Russia] is not something I feel comfortable risking. It's sad. I want to see sports unify the world and not be this divisive thing. But we have to come from a basis of respect for each other first, and doping has no place in a world of respect."