Cross-country skiiers criticize IOC's anti-doping approach, want meeting with FIS leaders

More than 100 cross-country ski athletes from eight nations have signed a letter critical of the International Olympic Committee's approach to anti-doping issues, requesting a meeting with the leadership of skiing's world governing body, FIS, in the wake of controversial comments by its longtime president.

"We believe a soft-handed approach to anti-doping is allowing cheating to persist in our sport," the letter stated. "We request stronger leadership by both the FIS and the IOC."

Olympic medalists from several of the sport's strongholds -- Sweden, Norway, Germany, Finland and France -- are among the athletes who added their names during a signature-gathering effort conducted at World Cup competitions this month, as are four Russian athletes, all women, including 2010 Olympic team sprint bronze medalist Natalia Korosteleva.

The 13 U.S. athletes on the list include Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, the 2013 team sprint world champions, and Kris Freeman, who became a four-time Olympian despite the challenge of managing Type 1 diabetes.

Athletes have asked for a meeting with FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper at the February world championships in Finland.

The letter expressed concern about "comments coming from FIS leadership" but was not specific. In an interview with the New York Times last month, Kasper, commenting on retesting that has wiped out dozens of results from the Beijing and London Games, said "We need to stop pretending sport is clean. It's a noble principle, but in practice? It's entertainment. It's drama."

The skiers are the latest athlete group to speak strongly in favor of a World Anti-Doping Agency with more power and autonomy.

A number of bobsled and skeleton athletes vocally advocated for moving the 2017 world championships out of Sochi, Russia, where drug testing at the 2014 Winter Olympics was subverted by a state-sponsored system, according to the findings of the two-part McLaren Report commissioned by WADA.

International bobsled and skeleton officials announced last week that the event would be relocated to Germany. Russia's anti-doping agency is still suspended, and the progress of reform efforts remains decidedly mixed.

U.S. track and field athletes are seeking broader international support for a petition started at the federation's annual meeting earlier this month. The thrust of that document also was for a WADA with more funding, teeth and independence from the IOC.

The skiers' petition references the McLaren Report and terms the IOC's reaction so far "disturbingly lenient across multiple sports. This has damaged the credibility of what it means to be an Olympic athlete."

Randall, the FIS athlete representative for cross-country, stressed that the petition was designed to be inclusive of all nations.

"My hope is that the Russian athletes would also be supportive of this letter," Randall wrote in an email to ESPN. "I believe many of them do believe in clean sport."

Russian men won five cross-country medals at Sochi 2014, including a podium sweep in the 50-kilometer event. Six unidentified Russian cross-country athletes are among the 28 Sochi competitors in multiple sports implicated by evidence in the McLaren report.

The IOC announced Friday that disciplinary cases have been opened against those athletes.

Also Friday, FIS announced that Russia will not host the cross-country World Cup finals in March.

"The findings in the McLaren Report have seriously damaged the integrity of sport, and we are determined to ensure the necessary measures are undertaken to punish the offenses," Kasper said, according to the Associated Press.

Cross-country and its sister sport of biathlon have been the winter Olympic sports most overtly marked by doping in recent years. Nine cross-country medals won by three different athletes at the 2002 Salt Lake Games were eventually stripped due to doping, and a police raid and ensuing scandal at the 2006 Turin Games resulted in lifetime bans for four Austrian cross-country athletes.