Tag Archives: biathlon World Cup 2020/21

Ch-Ch-Changes!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
There’s gonna have to be a different schedule!

Well I hate to say I told you so but I did warn you back in August that there could be big changes to the biathlon schedule this season and it has happened.

Firstly the Junior Cup has been cancelled almost entirely with just the Youth/Junior World Championships surviving in February 2021. These will be held in Obertilliach.

Next the IBU Cup rounds in December have been cancelled with the season starting in January in Arber. There will only be 5 rounds in the season, 2 in Arber, 2 in Brezno-Orsblie and 1 in Ridnaun, with the Open European Championships going ahead in Duszniki Zdroj in January.

The para-biathlon World Cup has also been moved and will now start in January too. Oestersund was due to host the first round in December but it has been moved to January and will become the second round after Planica in Slovenia. The World Championships are in Lillehammer in February and the final World Cup will be in Beijing on the 2020 Paralympic tracks in March.

The World Cup will now be the only biathlon to take place before Christmas. Oestersund has been cancelled and replaced by Kontiolahti which will host the ‘season opener’ and then World Cup 1. Annecy is cancelled and replaced by Hochfilzen which will now host World Cup 2 and 3.

The World Team Challenge which is held in Gelsenkirchen at the Schalke football stadium will not take place over the Christmas break this season.

In January there will be two visits to Oberhof for World Cups 4 and 5 with no Ruhpolding this season. Antholz will host World Cup 6 as scheduled.

The World Championships in Pokljuka will go ahead in February.

The rest of the calendar will be confirmed in November. We should be going to Beijing for the Olympic test event followed by Nove Mesto and then Holmenkollen.

I imagine that Beijing will have to stay on the calendar as the facilities and tracks have to be tested before 2022 and the athletes need to try the course and range.

However anything could happen with Nove Mesto and Holmenkollen. I suspect like the other decisions they will choose one to host 2 races to reduce travel and as Holmenkollen didn’t go ahead last season it would be the likely choice.

However it does depend if the venues are available to hold two events in a row. Apparently they sometimes use them for other sports – outrageous!

There was a lot of surprise when Oberhof was announced as hosting 2 World Cups as it is becoming known as ‘No-snowberhof’ but as it is the venue for the 2023 World Championships it would be difficult to skip it.

As for spectators at the World Cup it is basically out of the IBU’s hands. It will depend on the national governments rules in each country. Even if crowds are allowed I would imagine it would be at a reduced capacity not a full house.

So December is going to be dismal with only the World Cup to watch. I love the World Cup but it’s just not enough biathlon! However it is 2020 so we should probably just be grateful that there is any biathlon at all!

All of the above is still subject to possible ch-changes!

(I must credit David Bowie for helping with the opening paragraph!)

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To biathlon, or not to biathlon…..

….that is the question!

Sport has never had to deal with a global pandemic before. It is an unprecedented time and difficult decisions have to be made. Last season the corona virus caused the World Cup round in Nove Mesto to be held with no fans. Kontiolahti was the same and was ended a day early and then Holmenkollen was cancelled altogether.

So what of this season? Will there be biathlon? Should there be biathlon? There is a real possibility that the season could be cancelled. Here are some of the difficulties our beloved sport will have to face in the very near future.

Winter
Biathlon is a winter sport and even though cases are falling in some places around the world and the peak in Europe is passed unfortunately viruses tend to spread more easily in the winter months. If there is a second wave of corona virus is most likely to be right around the time the biathlon season is due to begin.

Travel
With 9 rounds of the World Cup, a season opener and the World Championships on the schedule for the 2020/21 season it means travelling between 10 different countries (Germany has 2 races). One of the stops on the World Cup is in Beijing, China for the Olympic test event in February but the rest are all in Europe.

Biathletes do sometimes drive between venues that are closer together but they also fly to save time. This means going through airports that obviously have people from all over the world passing through them and so the virus can be spread more easily.

Different countries also have different rules for their borders and these could change at any moment if a cluster occurs in a certain place. This might lead to airports being shut down amid a localised lockdown or borders being closed with little warning.

Socially distant racing

It’s not really possible to socially distance in a biathlon race. Maybe in the sprint and individual it would be easier but not in the head to head races or obviously the relays. There is also the question of contact with wax technicians and physiotherapists as well as race officials and journalists. The shooting mats are also shared by all the biathletes on the range and could be a source of spread.

How will the prizes be awarded? The podium is not that big to stay separate especially for the relay teams and how can you award flowers and a medal from two metres away? (Well you could try and throw the medal around the neck I suppose!)

Fans
As we saw last season biathlon without the fans is just not the same. However if mass gatherings are still banned then biathlon will be held behind closed doors possibly for the entire season.

Solutions?
Hopefully by the time the season opener comes around on the 28th of November in Kontiolahti these issues will not be a problem and we can go racing normally but what if we can’t?

There are a number of things the IBU could try to make sure the season goes ahead. The most radical would be to entirely change the schedule. For example in Moto GP, Formula 1 and for the Champions League the authorities are holding races and matches at one venue multiple times. Biathlon could also do this. Germany already hosts 2 World Cups so why not 3 and that would be one race block in one country with much less travel and movement involved.

Kontiolahti, Nove Mesto and Holmenkollen missed out last season with no fans and cancellations so why couldn’t they hold two races this season instead of one? The World Championship are in Pokljuka and with Antholz and Hochfilzen not so far away they could also be held around the same time. Yes it would take a lot of reorganisation and some venues would miss out but it is a possibility.

As for racing we already have a biathlon bubble. The biathlon family tends to stick together throughout the season competing, travelling and staying in local accomodation around the venues together. This should reduce the likelihood of transmission from outside sources.

Testing the biathletes and their teams and the officials regularly to make sure no one is spreading the virus will no doubt have to happen. If they were tested before returning from the breaks in the season like at Christmas or before World Championships it would find anyone who may have picked up the virus from returning home or seeing family.

However this throws up another issue about what happens if someone tests positive during a World Cup round or after coming back from the breaks? Obviously they would have to self isolate for 2 weeks but would their entire team have to do the same or the entire tour?

Travel could be made standard with all teams using chartered flights like they do already between some venues or if they choose to drive they could be always with the same people in the cars and also in the hotels at the venues. Or we could have a biathlon bus fleet!

Hopefully all the venues have been stocking up on personal protective equipment as the officials will need to wear gloves and masks when dealing with biathletes and their equipment like at the rifle checks or when fitting the transponders.

The fans is a tricky issue if there are no mass gatherings allowed in the winter. The fans make biathlon but it is still pretty watchable without them. The last two races of the season were incredible even without the crowd (but would have been even better with them!) because of the intense drama on the tracks.

Other sports have crowd noise played into the stadium to generate an atmosphere which is an option as some teams already do this in training to simulate race conditions. Also the number of spectators could be reduced to allow for more social distancing.

It is a tricky time for sport and the problems mentioned here hopefully will not come to pass. We all want biathlon to go ahead as normal this winter but it’s likely that it will have to make some changes. The possibility of behind closed doors races is probably the most likely scenario but at least that would be better than no biathlon at all!

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