Doping at Valieva: Russia’s leniency has consequences – sport
Ice dancer Evan Bates from Michigan was frustrated even before the lax verdict against Kamila Valiyeva. He’s basically been frustrated for 11 months since he left the Beijing Winter Olympics in February without his medal, along with the entire US figure skating team. The award ceremony for the team competition was called off at the last minute because Kamila Valiyeva, the young leader of the first-placed Russian team, had been found to be doping. To date, the result is not official, the result lists of the games are still marked with an asterisk.
Bates last called this delaying tactic “unfair” in October. Now – at least from a Russian point of view – the medals should be sent by express mail: because Russia’s anti-doping agency (Rusada) has finally closed the Valiyeva case – and acquitted the now 16-year-old of any guilt.
Rusada admitted to a doping violation by Valiyewas. But the Russian Disciplinary Commission investigating the incident found “no fault or negligence” on the figure skater’s part. This was announced by the Rusada of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) after a long delay in the case. Sanctions were not imposed on Valiyeva, only a competition result from December 25, 2021, the date of the doping test, was revoked by the disciplinary commission: On that day, Valiyeva became Russian champion with traces of the banned heart drug trimetazidine in her body. That is the finding that an analysis laboratory in Sweden discovered after the Russian title fights and that cannot be argued away.
Wada’s demand is clear: a four-year ban
In a first reaction, Wada requested the full reasons for the verdict from Russia in order to check whether the acquittal can be reconciled with the worldwide anti-doping code. Nevertheless, Wada has expressed its “concern” in unmistakable sharpness: it will not hesitate to lodge an objection with the International Court of Arbitration for Sports Cas. The case has been pending there since November because the Russian side let all deadlines for reporting the legal processing of the doping finding within their sports jurisdiction expire. The documents also show what sanctions Wada is demanding: a four-year suspension for Valiyeva, including disqualification in all competitions since December 25, 2021 – “including the loss of medals, points and prizes,” as it says.
So the leniency of the Rusada will probably have an aftermath. Because figure skating European champion Valiewa has remained; also, according to the Russians, team Olympic champion in Beijing and fourth in an Olympic women’s final, which, because of the main character, Kamila Valiyeva, was remembered by a worldwide audience as a skating spectacle that could hardly be surpassed in absurdity. The Moscow Duma deputy Svetlana Zhurova, a former speed skater, has already called the Rusada verdict an “interim verdict” in the Russian media, like the portal Inside The Games reported: Shurowa assumes that the case will ultimately be decided in court.
The Valiyeva doping case was considered a political issue from the start, even before Russia’s ruler Putin gave the order to bomb Ukraine shortly after the Olympic flame went out in February – and as a result, the war aggressor’s athletes were excluded from international competitions. In February in Beijing, the sporting nation was still officially disqualified because of a long-standing state doping scandal. Russian athletes competed without a country name, flag or national anthem. The fact that the most prominent, the celebrated, then only 15-year-old runner artist, had been proven to be taking a banned heart drug, which became known on February 8 after the team competition, seemed to confirm all fears.
Valiyeva was automatically banned, and Rusada lifted the ban a day later – because Valiyeva, as a minor, was particularly vulnerable, she argued. An ad hoc ruling by the Cas confirmed a few hours before the solo competition that Valiyeva was allowed to start there. This nervous strain was too much for the young favorite: in the freestyle she fell and stumbled over the ice and, crying, was crushed in fourth place.
Ten months later, at the Russian championships in December 2022, Valiyeva finished second. She is still the most popular sportswoman in the giant empire, as a recent survey showed. But even if Russia’s anti-doping agency denies her any guilt, the most important questions remain unanswered: Who gave a 15-year-old girl the banned heart drug trimetazidine and, according to a dossier, two other permitted substances, hypoxene and L-carnitine? Who is responsible for underage doping? Who does Russia’s sport want to hold accountable for such a crime?
In the US, Travis Tygart, head of the American Anti-Doping Agency, is demanding that WADA and the World Skating Federation appeal against the Russian acquittal: “to protect the rights of all athletes”. He calls for a public hearing – outside of Russia. For the USA skating team around Evan Bates, which took second place in Beijing at the time, that would mean, like for the third-placed Japanese, that the wait for the medals would continue.