Kamila Valieva can continue to compete in the Olympics, referees rule
The Russian figure skating star at the center of doping issues at the Beijing Olympics will be allowed to compete in the women’s singles event after a decision by a panel of referees on Monday.
The panel, in a statement, said it would be unfair and cause ‘irreparable harm’ to skater, Kamila Valieva of Russia, if she were barred from competition, despite having tested positive for a banned substance in December. The revelation came last week, after Valieva helped Russia take first place in the team event.
Valieva, 15, has become a face of the Games and is widely seen as the favorite to win the women’s event which begins on Tuesday.
In a practice session half an hour after the decision, she flawlessly performed her usual array of jumps and spins as more than a hundred reporters watched. She left the rink, carrying her favorite stuffed rabbit, without speaking to reporters.
While the decision means Valieva can begin her quest for a second gold medal at these Games, questions are sure to hang over her performance and the Russian team, as well as the system designed to ensure that athletes competing in the major world competitions are clean.
The panel ruled on a narrow question: Did Russia act improperly when it lifted Valieva’s suspension last week just a day after imposing it? The decision effectively paved the way for Valieva to compete in the singles event, but three international organizations – the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and world skating governing body – immediately challenged it on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the highest legal authority in world sport.
In its decision, the panel said it “considered the fundamental principles of fairness, proportionality, irreparable harm and balance of interests” between Valieva and the organizations seeking to exclude her from the Games. Also, he noted, Valieva was underage and did not test positive at the Beijing Games, although she may face penalties when her case is reviewed after the Olympics.
The panel was not tasked with deciding whether Russia should retain the gold medal in the team competition, an award won thanks to Valieva’s stunning performances in the women’s side. Nor did he consider whether Valieva was guilty of knowingly consuming a prohibited drug. But he questioned the timing of events, saying there were “serious problems with untimely notification of results”.
Matthieu Reeb, the tribunal’s chief executive, announced the decision at a press conference in Beijing on Monday, less than 30 hours before the start of the women’s event. He lamented the delay in processing the sample from Valieva, which was collected on December 25 but not returned – with the positive result, until last Monday – after she began participating in the Games. Reed left the room after making the announcement without answering questions from reporters.
The World Anti-Doping Agency expressed “disappointment” with the decision and said in a statement that the panel ignored specific provisions of the anti-doping code that govern athletes that required a suspension – even for a teenager.
Minutes after the decision, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee issued a statement expressing its disappointment. Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the committee, said clean athletes were being denied “the right to know they are competing on a level playing field”.
“We are disappointed with the messages this sends,” Hirshland said, adding, “This seems to be another chapter in Russia’s systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport.”
Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said she was “extremely disappointed” with the result. Canada took fourth place in the team event, behind the United States and Japan, but could be elevated to bronze if a later ruling on the merits of Valieva’s doping case leads to a change in the final order.
The team medals have yet to be awarded and it is unclear whether they will be presented at the Games. Final resolution of Valieva’s eligibility issues could take months to resolve.
Groups upset by the decision have denounced previous rulings that allowed Russian athletes to compete in these Games even though their country is barred from them after they were caught orchestrating a state-sponsored doping program at the Games of 2014 in Sochi. As part of his punishment, Russia’s name, flag and anthem are banned from the Beijing Games; its athletes who have been licensed by their individual sports federations compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.
“Russia has never had an incentive to reform because sports leaders have chosen politics over principle and rebranding over banning,” said Rob Koehler, chief executive of Global Athlete, an advocacy group. athletes.
Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that may increase endurance. His positive result comes from a urine sample taken from him during the Russian national championships on December 25 but not confirmed by the Stockholm laboratory responsible for testing him for about six weeks.
Russia’s anti-doping agency said it was only informed by the Swedish lab of Valieva’s failed drug test on February 7, the same day it led the Russians to a gold medal. gold in the team event.
“It’s a very complicated and controversial situation,” his coach, Eteri Tutberidze, told Russian state broadcaster Channel One on Saturday. “There are many questions and very few answers.”
Despite these unknowns, Tutberidze said “we are absolutely confident that Kamila is innocent and clean.”
During last week’s free program in the team competition, Valieva became the first woman to land a quadruple jump. His performance led the Russians to win the team event, their best performance to date.
In the weeks following the Olympics, however, Valieva’s case will continue and could end up before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland for further rulings by new panels.
Because she’s only 15, she’s recognized as a “protected person” under anti-doping rules, her case will be assessed under different standards of proof, and she’ll face lesser penalties, if any, than adults. .
Those most likely to be punished would be any of his coaches, coaches, and medical staff who may have known about his drug use or provided it to him. The Russian anti-doping agency and WADA said they would investigate these people.
It is also possible that Valieva will only receive a reprimand for using the banned drug or having it in her system.