Liam Morgan

If elections in the murky world of sports politics were won on paper, there is little doubt who the next President of the International Biathlon Union (IBU) would be.

The most important vote in the short history of the IBU pits Sweden’s Olle Dahlin against Latvian Baiba Broka, who surprised even members of the organisation’s own Executive Board when confirming her candidacy in June.

Dahlin has a wealth of experience inside and outside of biathlon. He has served in numerous roles, including IBU vice-president for development, President of the Swedish Federation and on the Östersund 2008 World Championships Executive Board.

Broka, meanwhile, is somewhat of an unknown quantity in biathlon and is a relative newcomer to the sport having only taken over the Latvian Federation in recent years.

"He should be a huge favourite on merit,” one sports official told me.

As countless elections have shown us, merit is not always the deciding factor. There is plenty of backdoor scheming, lobbying and deal-making to be done before the IBU convenes for its Congress in the Croatian resort of Poreč on September 7.

Baiba Broka's candidacy for IBU President was met with surprise within the organisation ©YouTube
Baiba Broka's candidacy for IBU President was met with surprise within the organisation ©YouTube 

If you believe the rumour mill, Broka has a pretty considerable force in her corner. Reports have surfaced that the Russians - who are thought to have meddled in elections far more important than in a sporting organisation - are vehemently campaigning behind the scenes to ensure the Latvian is elected.

The suggestions are that Broka, supposedly a pro-Russian herself, is the preferred candidate of a nation which remains a sporting pariah in certain circles, It is widely assumed she will take a more lenient stance towards the country - relegated to provisional membership by the IBU following the doping scandal - and the results of the investigation into the previous leadership.

Anders Besseberg stepped down as President earlier this year after a criminal probe was opened which centred on possible doping, fraud and corruption concerning the alleged covering-up of positive drugs test involving Russian athletes. He and former secretary general Nicole Resch deny wrongdoing.

Should the Russian meddling rumours prove true, it would send a terrible message to the athletes and to the International Olympic Committee, which suspended direct payments to the IBU back in July and will not resume them until the embattled governing body meets a series of demands.

There are some who believe Broka - whose political career has also not been free of controversy as she left her position as Latvian Minister of Justice in 2014 after being denied national security clearance by the Constitution Protection Bureau - triumphing over Dahlin would be the less desirable outcome, Russian influence or not.

Olympic silver medallist Sebastian Samuelsson, an outspoken critic of the previous regime and a member of the group of athletes which boycotted the IBU World Cup finals in Tyumen in March in protest at the governing body’s decision to keep the event in the Russian city, made this point publicly on Twitter.

"Anything other than there being will be a Swedish president of the IBU in three weeks would be bad for international biathlon," he said.

Samuelsson is Swedish but there is belief that Broka winning the election would be counter-productive to the insistence from both the Latvian and Dahlin that they will repair the integrity of the IBU, damaged so badly by the alleged actions of the previous leadership.

Broka, though, is thought to be gaining ground within the Member Federations prior to another key lobbying opportunity at the Summer Biathlon World Championships in the Czech Republic this week.

Being a politician, she also knows how to talk a good game. In an interview with Latvian media in June – which remains one of the only examples of her speaking publicly about her campaign – Broka told of the need to regain the trust of athletes and conceded the IBU lagged behind other Federations in terms of good governance.

"I have seen a lot of problems between Sochi [2014] and Pyeongchang [2018]," she said.

"I have seen a lot of things to do, many of my suggestions to change in the statutes have already been taken into account, the situation with doping scandals, in terms of good governance of the organisation.

"To a great deal, the IBU has so far not paid attention and now it is apparent that it is missing. My legal experience would be useful.

"The environment must be created around the athlete so that the trust the Federation.

"At the moment, there is no easy time for the Federation - we have to say that there will be no more corruption, doping and fair play."

That is the key theme of Dahlin’s campaign, too. The Swede has pledged to rebuild the reputation of the IBU and the trust in the worldwide governing body by increasing transparency and democracy, while also vowing to make biathlon the "clean sport" - a soundbite which will need supporting with concrete actions if he is elected President.

The Swede’s performance when we spoke last week was similar to that of his country during the FIFA World Cup in Russia; guarded, controlled and giving very little away.

Dahlin admitted he was aware of the rumours of extensive Russian lobbying for Broka but declined to comment any further.

He also refused to be drawn on whether defeat to his Latvian challenger would send a poor message to the world, saying only that he was "confident in my candidature to be the President with the experience I have in biathlon, business and management".

Olle Dahlin has released his manifesto for IBU President ©Olle Dahlin
Olle Dahlin has released his manifesto for IBU President ©Olle Dahlin

What did come through during our brief chat was his desire to succeed. Dahlin has taken a step back from his various roles in business so he can focus entirely on the IBU - such is the scale of the task he will face if the result goes his way next month.

"My immediate priority to restore and build trust from all of our stakeholders," Dahlin, who released his manifesto to Member Federations last week, told insidethegames.

"The reputation has been damaged and it will take some time but I am really prepared to spend my time to build this up and restore it as fast as possible.

"The new President must take the time to have clear, face-to-face communication with our stakeholders and I am prepared to do this.

"This is how you build confidence and trust between people.

"I have also changed my personal situation so I have the possibility to dedicate a lot of time to build and restore this trust."

Good governance, unsurprisingly, was a topic continually referred to by Dahlin and which dominates his manifesto.

"We can expect general reform now and that includes reviewing our whole constitution, which is 25-years-old," Dahlin said.

"We have only done minor changes during that time and we have to look into good governance reforms all over the constitution.

"It is better to make a total review and take our time to have good governance and transparency.

"We have already started this with a code of ethics and a whistleblower policy, for example.

"There has been a code of ethics before but it was only a few sentences and here we haven’t been following the development or process of good governance. But now we are in that situation and we will take care of these type of issues."

While he appears the clear front-runner at this stage, Dahlin must also be wary of the fact that a Congress persuaded - illicitly or otherwise - to give the 2021 World Championships to a Russian city despite the state-sponsored doping scandal holds his fate in their hands.

He might also be forced to defend himself to those who will point out that, for all his talk of changing the IBU’s governance for the better, he served under Besseberg for four years until the Norwegian’s abrupt resignation.

Favourite or not, Dahlin knows the outcome of the election - the winner of which will become only the second President in the history of the IBU - is far from guaranteed.