The Russian Biathlon Union has been initially suspended until September and could be banned for longer as the IBU considers what action to take ©Getty Images

International Biathlon Union (IBU) secretary general Niklas Karlsson has hinted that the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU) could face a lengthy ban after provisionally suspending the National Federation.

The IBU Executive Board confirmed last week it had agreed to "start procedures" for the suspension of the RBU and Biathlon Federation of Belarus (BiFB) following the two countries’ involvement in the war of Ukraine.

It ruled that they had "failed to uphold their humanitarian obligations in the spirit of the IBU Constitution".

The RBU and BiFB have been provisionally suspended until the IBU Ordinary Congress, scheduled to be held in September.

Karlsson told Norwegian TV channel NRK that it was "possible" the suspensions could last several years.

"It is important that we have marked in this way," said Karlsson.

"Then there are the different levels of exclusion we can make.

"Now we have decided to do it at the highest level.

"Principle is principle, and then one must be prepared to take the consequences that may come.

"First and foremost, the question is what it will cost the country. We will not transfer any financial resources to them."

Following the IBU Executive Board’s ruling on March 17, the RBU and BiFB were both granted seven days to respond.

The move has been strongly criticised in Russia with former Russian head coach Valery Polkhovsky reportedly accusing the IBU of "jumping to conclusions" and making the decision "under pressure".

Norway's Sturla Holm Lægreid is among those to support the banning of Russian and Belarusian biathletes from IBU events ©Getty Images
Norway's Sturla Holm Lægreid is among those to support the banning of Russian and Belarusian biathletes from IBU events ©Getty Images

Athletes and officials from both countries had already been banned from all IBU events due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Numerous International Federations have taken a similar step, following recommendations from the International Olympic Committee.

Speaking to Russia's official state news agency TASS, double Olympic champion Dmitry Vasiliev claimed the IBU did not have a strong enough case to ban Russian biathletes.

"These are all vague formulations that they cling to, they need at least some reason to remove us, so they are now trying to suck it out of their finger," Vasiliev said.

"What does humanitarian obligations mean?

"This is all from the evil one, the IBU is trying to justify their actions in some way, but they are not very good at it.

"While there are many questions left, we must wait for the final decision from the IBU, there is no reason to remove us.

"Otherwise, all NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] countries should have been disqualified for the wars they organised in the 20th and 21st centuries."

Olympic gold medallists Sturla Holm Lægreid of Norway and Sebastian Samuelsson of Sweden have both backed the suspension of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

"It probably does not look like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has any immediate plan to end the war, so then I think it is right to take a stand against Russia and Belarus, and show where we stand in that conflict," Lægreid told NRK.

Samuelsson added: "As long as the war continues, it feels strange to invite them back. Something other than what we see now must happen."

The RBU has been relegated to provisional membership since 2017, while Belarus has previously been stripped of hosting an IBU World Cup following a series of protests triggered by the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020.