Column: A disgraceful decision to allow Kamila Valieva to skate

Column A disgraceful decision to allow Kamila Valieva to skate

What the Court of Arbitration for Sport essentially said in deciding figure skater Kamila Valieva can compete in the Olympic women’s singles event despite having tested positive for a banned stimulant in December is that it’s OK to be a drug cheat if you’re 15 and you have “protected person” status under the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency. That’s reprehensible on more levels than Valieva has quadruple jumps in her repertoire.

Valieva, who became the first woman to land a quadruple jump in Olympic competition while boosting a gold-medal effort by athletes of the Russian Olympic Committee in the team event, was suspended last week by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) after it received a report the prohibited substance trimetazidine had been detected in a test she took at the national championships. She appealed, and the same agency lifted her suspension the next day. Surprise!

The International Olympic Committee, International Skating Union and World Anti-Doping Agency challenged the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to lift Valieva’s suspension, all of them apparently foolish enough to think a doping violation committed, even unknowingly, by a stellar athlete would be punished according to the rules established for everyone. A panel of three arbitrators appointed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed those challenges Monday, allowing Valieva to compete starting Tuesday.

“The Panel considered fundamental principles of fairness, proportionality, irreparable harm, and the relative balance of interests as between the Applicants and the Athlete, who did not test positive during the Olympic Games in Beijing and is still subject to a disciplinary procedure on the merits following the positive anti-doping test undertaken in December 2021,” the CAS statement said. “In particular, the Panel considered that preventing the Athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances.”

Valieva was betrayed by those who should be supporting her, the coaches and administrators who manipulate children’s bodies and lives in the name of achieving reflected athletic glory. Her coach, Eteri Turberidze, who also coached 2018 Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova and silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva, is known for pushing skaters to their limits and beyond. Those who suffer injuries from the impact of landing so many quadruple jumps or are slowed by changes brought on by puberty are discarded like moldy towels. The pity is that there’s always someone willing to replace them.

The reason athletes from Russia are competing as “neutrals” here under the name Russian Olympic Committee is because Russia as a nation was banned from international sports competition as a consequence of its history of state-run doping schemes. The Russian flag and anthem are missing here but its cheating looks to be the same.

“We are disappointed by the message this decision sends,” Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a statement. “It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport and to hold our athletes, coaches and all involved to the highest of standards. Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately today that right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.

“We know this case is not yet closed, and we call on everyone in the Olympic Movement to continue to fight for clean sport on behalf of athletes around the world.”

In denying the applications by the IOC, World Anti-Doping Agency and International Skating Union to reinstate Valieva’s suspension, the arbitration panel mentioned her age and her status in the eyes of WADA as “protected” because she’s younger than 16. “The CAS Panel also emphasized that there were serious issues of untimely notification of the results of the Athlete’s anti-doping test that was performed in December 2021 which impinged upon the Athlete’s ability to establish certain legal requirements for her benefit, while such late notification was not her fault, in the middle of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” the statement said.

“The CAS Ad hoc Division was requested to determine the narrow issue as to whether a provisional suspension should be imposed on the athlete. It was not requested to rule on the merits of this case, nor to examine the legal consequences relating to the results of the team event in figure skating, as such issues will be examined in other proceedings.”

In response, the IOC said it won’t have a medal ceremony for the team event or have one for the women’s competition if Valieva makes the medal stand, which she is expected to do.

The World Anti-Doping Agency expressed disappointment in the decision and said it believes RUSADA’s decision to lift Valieva’s suspension “was not in line with the terms of the World Anti-Doping Code.” WADA also said its Intelligence and Investigations department will join RUSADA in investigating Valieva’s support personnel, and that may be the only good offshoot of this alphabet soup-like mess of agencies and self-interested governing bodies.

The IOC long ago sold its integrity by staging Winter Games in places where snow is an abstract concept. Allowing cheaters to compete punishes every athlete who plays it clean and still believes in Olympic ideals that the IOC has abandoned.

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