Greg McKenna

The guiding light for the newly formed Biathlon Integrity Unit (BIU) is to build confidence and trust in a clean biathlon, a better biathlon than we had witnessed in recent years. 

Seven months since I was honoured to be appointed as the first head of the BIU, that remains the daily motivator for me and my team. If we can return trust to our sport following a challenging period, if we can give today’s biathletes confidence that we are fighting their corner, and equally importantly, if we can inspire tomorrow’s generation to choose biathlon as their sport because they see a level playing field culture, then we know we are doing our job.

Equally, as someone that has been involved in UK law enforcement for 26 years, I’ve never been in this for the glory, for championing public relations "wins", which is why I have always maintained that the biathlon community, biathletes, coaches, entourage members, fans even, must hold the BIU accountable and judge us by our actions. 

Yet, to be judged, what are people within our sport to judge us against? And, when it comes to anti-doping, which forms a significant part of the BIU’s mandate, how do you judge our performance? Therein lies the challenge, because I am unsure whether consensus within the anti-doping community - 21 years after the formation of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) - has been sought, on what amounts to an effective anti-doping programme.

The Biathlon Integrity Unit was established in 2019 ©Getty Images
The Biathlon Integrity Unit was established in 2019 ©Getty Images

In lieu of a firm agreement, it appears that commentators, media pundits and others have filled the gap with the notion that a sport’s number of tests determines the success of its anti-doping programme.  

If judging performance through the prism of testing numbers is considered the right approach, how does this compare with other organisations in society, responsible for enforcing rules? And how can taking, what appears to be a single strand approach to measuring performance, affect its approach? 

Law enforcement appears to be an obvious case study with which to compare anti-doping work. The current performance measure appears to drive organisations to concentrate efforts on testing only. This approach is akin to the police being considered effective through the number of people they stop in the street and search, and not how many criminals they detect. 

Modern investigations rely on multiple strands of information, which allows the investigator to corroborate and confirm any information they receive. Ultimately, this ensures a more focused and credible investigation. Why not apply this approach to the anti-doping effort?    

WADA reported a 5.5 per cent increase in the number of samples (urine and non-athlete biological passport blood samples) analysed in 2018 (263,519) compared to 2019 (278,047); yet, in parallel, there was a decrease in the number of adverse analytical findings (AKA positive tests) recorded, with 1.05 per cent of tests recorded as adverse in 2018 compared to 0.97 per cent in 2019. What does this tell us, you might ask: that we, in global sport, are catching fewer cheats or that we are deterring more from doping in the first place?  

The BIU spend almost 50 per cent of our budget on collecting samples and analysing them. In recent years, there have been no adverse analytical findings resulting from this approach. Does this mean that nobody is doping in biathlon, or does it mean our approach, which is similar to many other organisations, needs to change?

Without doubt, testing is a fundamental part of protecting the integrity of sport, however it should be seen as one of a number of tools in the toolkit. In developing our arsenal of tactics to uphold trust and confidence in biathlon, we continue to ask ourselves: what prohibited substances or techniques should we be looking for? What methods are used to get the substances into the body? Where are these substances obtained? What support, and by whom, is there to obtain such substances? Is the substance taken in or out of competition? What affect would a substance have on an athlete and how do we spot the signs?

These questions have led to the BIU to adopt a different, more progressive approach to anti-doping. A strategy that encompasses the excellent work of our scientists, the introduction of investigations knowledge and opening up Intelligence collection channels.

Without doubt, clean sport can only be achieved through a team approach.  This means working closely with everyone involved in participating, supporting or spectating. The BIU must provide a climate which encourages all involved in sport, to come to us with information of potential wrongdoing and rule breaches. 

The IBU manages all integrity-related matters concerning biathlon, including anti-doping, betting-related issues, ethical breaches and any sort of result manipulation ©Getty Images
The IBU manages all integrity-related matters concerning biathlon, including anti-doping, betting-related issues, ethical breaches and any sort of result manipulation ©Getty Images

The BIU is focused on a modern, multi-strand approach:

Education - alongside our current educational programme, more information on spotting the signs doping activity, together with how even the smallest piece of information can make a difference.

Human Intelligence - we are building confidence in our whistleblowing function, in the way that WADA has been doing through their Speak-Up initiative. Despite significant advances in technology, human intelligence remains by far the most effective intelligence and information-gathering method. This can involve use of our whistleblowing systems, or providing either one our ongoing confidential contact with the BIU.

Performance Data Collection - we are developing tools which draw on all performance data.

Intelligence Research - we are ingesting and analysing all data sources to establish links and lines that need further enquiry.

Scientific analysis - we are regularly seeking input from scientific experts on emerging or novel use of existing substances.

Proactive Information Development - our investigators collect information on the ground and will focus on whereabouts failures.

Testing - we will not be led by the notion that high testing numbers equals a strong anti-doping programme. Rather, we are testing at the optimum time, on the right date and at the right place to ensure every cent is spent wisely.

Communications - underpinning all of this is a clear approach to communications so that no one in biathlon can be in any doubt as to our collective determination to succeed in our mission.

The complexity of doping in sport requires a fully integrated approach of testing alongside investigations and intelligence gathering. This is the only way to genuinely protect biathlon and ensure a level playing field philosophy for the overwhelming majority: the clean biathletes. Our success should be measured through the quality of our work and not attention-grabbing, record-number-of-doping-test headlines. 

I do not underestimate the challenge, however as an investigator I am employed to question and stress test common assumption. I believe that a modern, progressive and smarter approach is the only way the BIU can, more effectively, perform its function. Our objective is to identify those involved in compromising the safety of our athletes and integrity of biathlon and ultimately, ensure a fair and clean sport.