Olympic officials announced on Monday, Feb. 4 that in any event in which 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva places in the top three, all competitors will not receive their medals until her doping case is resolved. The IOC, and later upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), also said Sunday that Valieva was cleared to still compete.
Valieva is one of the best figure skaters in the world and is a gold medal favorite in her individual events. She already helped the Russian figure skating team win the gold medal in the team event, however they will also not get their medal until the case is over. Russian athletes have to compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee, after Russia was caught running a state-sponsored doping scheme going back to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Russia’s name, flag and anthem are not allowed into these games as punishment, and this situation brings up questions of Russia’s integrity.
This decision by the CAS is extremely controversial because Valieva tested positive for a banned substance, trimetazidine. She tested positive from a urine sample taken in December, but the results were only released last week. Trimetazidine is mainly used in heart-related conditions and increases the blood flow to the heart, limiting blood pressure swings potentially increasing the stamina of an athlete.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a statement that clean “athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field”. She goes on to say “that right is being denied” and how this situation “appears to be another chapter in the systemic pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia”.
Not only is it unfair to other athletes who are competing clean, yet they still have to compete against a known cheater, whether willingly or not. This also damages the sport of figure skating and puts to question any future events Valieva competes in.
Valieva also due to her young age is under the “protected person” status, which applies to those 16 years of age and younger. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) created this to give teenage athletes more protection because of their “lack of legal capacity”.
When looking at Sha’Carri Richardson and her suspension prior to the Tokyo Olympics, you can see a similarity between their situations as well. Richardson, a favorite to win gold medals in different track events, received a suspension after testing positive for marijuana prior to the Olympics. Marijuana according to the WADA is a drug of abuse not a performance-enhancing drug, thus it does not give her any sort of advantage. Richardson in a tweet asked for a “solid answer on the difference” between Valieva and her own cases. She noted that the “only difference I see is I’m a young black lady”.
This whole situation is not only confusing, but is frustrating to watch. There are so many questions about the involvement of Russian sports officials, her coach who has a complicated history, and how should the case be handled considering Valieva is a minor. The timing of the situation is also incredibly odd as there was a six-week delay between when Valieva’s sample was submitted and the result of the test, which was four days into the games.
Another important thing to note is that because Valieva has that “protected person” status her case will be judged by different standards and with lesser penalties as she is a minor. Her trainers and coaches are the ones who will likely face the punishment as they either knew about her drug use or provided trimetazidine to her.
To me I think of a future in which people can take advantage of the fact that minors face lesser penalties if they get caught cheating, and thus be fine with doping as there is no hard punishment to not cheat. Some may be fine with the mild consequences and say ‘oh they’re just a child they didn’t know’ approach.
We have no idea if Valieva’s medal(s) will get taken if the IOC finds she didn’t know about the banned substance, it’s an issue that will take months to resolve. Coaches in the future could take advantage of this and pressure their young athletes, and use this loophole. Or maybe Valieva did know what she was doing, but overall if a person is too young to be accountable for what goes into their body then they’re too young to be even going to the Olympics or competent in major events.