Eight years ago, Mikhail Prokhorov played a critical role in Russian sport. He was named head of the Russian Biathlon Union, in charge of preparing the country’s biathletes for the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
He financed their operations, hired top coaches, built an dedicated practice facility, installed Sergei Kushchenko, his chief sports adviser, as director of the program and worked with international biathlon authorities on charges that top biathletes were using performance-enhancing drugs banned in international competition.
Now, however, Prokhorov has become embroiled in a new controversy surrounding Russia’s biathletes and doping.
The Russian biathlon team had moderate success in Sochi, winning its only gold in the mens’ biathlon relay on the last day of competition with Prokhorov, Kushchenko, by then a member of the Nets board of directors, and other Nets executives in the stands. Not long after Sochi, Prokhorov and Kushchenko resigned their positions.
On Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) handed out lifetime bans to another five members of the Russian Olympic team including two biathletes, Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina. It’s part of the IOC investigation into charges that Russia ran a sophisticated doping operation at Sochi.
The main source of the charges is a Russian whistle-blower, the former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov was featured in the 2017 Netflix documentary Icarus . In it, Rodchenchov describes his involvement in a conspiracy to help 1,000 Russian athletes to beat doping tests in the Olympics and other international competitions. He’s cooperated with the IOC and other international agencies and is reportedly living in the United States.
Although there’s no suggestion that Prokhorov or Kushchenko were involved or were aware of the doping, the Nets owner says he is prepared to finance any litigation brought by the two women against Rodchenkov in the U.S. Rodchenkov cannot return to Russia out of fear he’ll be arrested.
“If Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina decide to fight and defend their honor, I’m ready to provide any legal and financial support,"Prokhorov told TASS on Tuesday.
"We have a positive experience in this field. I am prepared to hire the best lawyers to defend the interests of our biathletes in any country of the world, where it will be most appropriate.
“I am sure that one of the court proceedings should be opened in the United States, where ‘death trader’ Rodchenkov can be questioned during the trial. Our athletes should have an opportunity to personally face the man whose words provided the basis for the outrage of sporting lawlessness," he added.
Of course, if the banned athletes did file suit, they would almost certainly have to appear in a U.S. court. That may not be something they or Russian authorities would welcome.
Prokhorov also criticized Russian sports authorities for not defending Russian athletes if “clean.”
"I am sincerely surprised by the stance of our sports functionaries, who have long been idle spectators to all this. It’s eighteen months since the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where we for the first time experienced an unfounded attack against our Olympic athletes and parathletes. The situation around our athletes has turned for the worse since. What have the functionaries done about all that?" Prokhorov asked.
Without any evidence of Prokhorov’s involvement, the ban on biathletes is unlikely to affect his ownership of the Nets.