Winter Olympics: Anti-doping agency disappointed by Kamila Valieva ruling after Russian teen cleared to skate

2022 Beijing Olympics — Figure Skating — Training — Rink Capital Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China — Feb 14, 2022. Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee in action during training.
PHOTO: Reuters

The highest court in the sports world came under fire on Monday after teenaged Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva was allowed to continue her Olympic campaign despite testing positive for a banned substance in December.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the lifting of the 15-year-old’s temporary suspension in a ruling, saying that barring her from competition “would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances”.

Valieva is favourite for the women’s individual gold and CAS said the decision was partly because she was a minor or “protected person” and therefore subject to less severe punishment.

She tested positive for banned substance trimetazidine, and the result only came in on February 8. A disciplinary committee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, or Rusada, lifted her suspension after Valieva appealed the next day.

“The panel considered that preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympics would cause her irreparable harm in the circumstances,” CAS Director General Matthieu Reeb said on Monday.

CAS said it took into account that Valieva did not test positive during the Beijing Games and could still be punished for the positive test she produced on Dec 25.

Read Also
Winter Olympics: Kamila Valieva cleared to compete after CAS ruling citing 'exceptional circumstances'
Winter Olympics: Kamila Valieva cleared to compete after CAS ruling citing 'exceptional circumstances'

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), one of the groups that challenged the lifting of Valieva’s suspension, said it was disappointed by the ruling and the CAS panel of arbitrators appeared to not have applied the terms of the World Anti-Doping Code.

The code “does not allow for specific exceptions to be made in relation to mandatory provisional suspensions for ‘protected persons’, including minors”, the organisation said in a statement.

The International Skating Union, another to challenge Rusada’s decision, said in a statement that it had “duly noted and will respect the ruling”, and would not comment further before it had received the grounds for upholding the lifting of the suspension.

Now, Valieva and her fellow Russian skaters can aim for the first podium sweep of women’s figure skating in Olympic history. The event starts with the short programme on Tuesday and concludes on Thursday with the free skate.

Valieva’s coach Eteri Tutberidze, whom many are blaming for the teenager’s plight, told Russian television she believed her athlete was “clean and innocent”.

Concerns have been raised about whether the adults around Valieva, including her coach, doctors and support team, had anything to do with the positive test. Tutberidze and others in Valieva’s entourage now face investigation by Rusada and reportedly from Wada as well.

Russia has been at the centre of several doping scandals over the past decade. In 2014, German broadcaster ARD released a documentary alleging state-sponsored doping, prompting an investigation by Wada.

A Wada independent commission said in a 2015 report that a “deeply rooted culture of cheating” had implicated athletes, coaches, trainers, doctors and institutions. It said Russia’s secret service impersonated lab engineers at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and intimidated lab workers to cover up positive drug tests.

The Russians have since been sanctioned, unable to fly their flag at the Olympics and represented only by a Russian Olympic Committee team.

Read Also
Who is Zhu Yi, the figure skater whose Winter Olympics dream became a nightmare?
Who is Zhu Yi, the figure skater whose Winter Olympics dream became a nightmare?

Valieva was part of the ROC team that won figure skating gold. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided to cancel the medal ceremony for the team event because Valieva had tested positive for a banned drug yet it has yet to be established whether she violated anti-doping rules.

“Should Ms Valieva finish amongst the top three competitors in the women’s single skating competition, no flower ceremony and no medal ceremony will take place during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” the IOC also said.

While most commentators were sympathetic towards the skater, they were angered by the fact that she was being allowed to compete after testing positive.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the message the ruling sends.

“Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systematic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia,” it said.

US anti-doping agency chief Travis Tygart said: “Only time will tell if she should be competing in these Games and whether or not all of her results will be disqualified.

2022 Beijing Olympics — Figure Skating — Team Event — Women Single Skating — Free Skating — Capital Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China — Feb 7, 2022. Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee after winning gold during the flower ceremony. PHOTO: Reuters file

“Unfortunately, either way, for the sixth consecutive Olympic Games, Russia has hijacked the competition and stolen the moment from clean athletes and the public. In addition to athletes and the public, this young athlete has been terribly let down by the Russians and the global anti-doping system that unfairly cast her into this chaos.”

In the ruling, the CAS panel also said the delay in telling the athlete of the positive test result for the banned substance constituted “serious issues of untimely notification”.

The delay “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”, CAS said.

Wada said Rusada did not flag Valieva’s sample as a priority sample and therefore the lab did not fast-track the analysis of the sample.

READ ALSO: 'China is stealing medals': South Korean presidential hopefuls on Olympics storm

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.