Thoughts on the CAS Kamila Valieva Decision
Photo via Evgenia Novozhenina - Reuters
Disclaimer: This is solely an opinion piece.
If you're anything like me, you've been Googling Kamila Valieva hourly since the news of her positive doping test first broke on February 9.
If you haven't been, here's some background: Valieva, a 15-year-old figure skater for the ROC, became the first woman to land a quadruple axel, or a quad, at the Olympics on February 8, during the team figure skating competition, which Russia won. The medal ceremony, scheduled for the 9th, got postponed for an unknown reason last minute. Turns out, the results had returned from a doping test taken in December, and a drug which can help endurance and performance, and is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), was found in Valieva's system. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) issued a ban on her skating. She appealed the ban, and won. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Skating Union (ISU), and WADA challenged RUSADA's decision to list the ban. The case went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the highest international court for disputes in sport. The ruling would determine whether or not Valieva would be permitted to skate in the women's individual competition, beginning February 15.
The decision was announced on February 14, around 1 am EST: Kamila will be allowed to compete.
I think the reason that I'm so invested in this is because Kamila is the same age as I am, and like much of the world, I was captivated by her routines in the team competition. She was spectacular and history-making, and it was marred so quickly by the failed drug test. It's very possibly the biggest news story at these Olympics.
To make it clear, I do not blame Valieva, nor do I think anyone should. She is a child, and if there were performance-enhancing drugs purposefully at use, I do not think that she should be held responsible, given the presence of adults around her that should have known better and given the history of some of these adults.
Eteri Tutberidze, the coach of Valieva, has been known to take all measures necessary in order for her skaters to succeed. Generally, these measures tend to be fully in the category of creating light skaters instead of strong skaters. Former skaters under Tutberidze have said "even if you are tired or you are injured, you still go on the ice and work,” and that the skaters were weighed before they stepped on the ice and could be blocked from practicing if their weight varied by half a pound (both Polina Shuboderova) and that at the Olympics, they couldn't drink water, only "just rinsed our mouths and spit it all out" (Alina Zagitova). Eteri herself has praised one of her past skaters, Yulia Lipnitskaya, for being able to survive on only powdered nutrients. Lipnitskaya later retired and checked herself into inpatient care after battling years of anorexia. Obviously these methods are not sustainable, with none of Tutberidze's students continuing to train with her past the age of 19, most retiring at young ages with serious injuries and probably some psychological damage.
So, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that Valieva could have been manipulated into doping. Even if it was her choice, the adults surrounding her should have known something was up and should have tried harder to prevent it from happening.
But back to the actual, current situation at hand. Valieva is permitted to compete in the individual competition tomorrow, but if she qualifies for a medal, there will not be a medal ceremony for any competitors. It's being said that the decision has destroyed all integrity in Olympic sport.
I'm really torn on what to think. I understand the frustration that technically the rules weren't followed, but at the same time, I think the code for "protected persons" (minors under 16) is a valid legal code and makes complete sense, given the facts provided earlier and how easy it would be for any adult to manipulate a child into doping to bring the coach success. I don't think it would be fair to punish Valieva by depriving her of her Olympic experience that she has undoubtedly worked hard for. Especially when it may not have even been her fault.
Especially with the history of Russian female skaters not succeeding over the age of 19, by the next Olympics, Valieva's star will have burned out. I assume that this is what CAS meant by "irreparable damage" being done to the skater if she was not allowed to compete.
Also, I agree with CAS that it wouldn't be fair to make such a swift decision on this complex case that everyone knows such little about. Especially with the extenuating circumstances like the test taking a month and a half to come back, and the test technically not having anything to do with the Olympics, since it happened outside of the competition and qualifying.
I think the decision was the right one, only when made with the exception that if she medals the ceremony will be postponed. The actual final decision on the doping charge itself shouldn't have to be made over a weekend. The decision made yesterday allows them to take however long it needs to actually resolve that.
I hope that whatever ruling CAS eventually comes to is just and fair to Kamila, and I hope she does have a future in skating past Tutberidze and this scandal.
If you want to watch Valieva and the rest of the skaters in the women's individual short program, it'll be on the USA Network and nbcolympics.com at 5am EST tomorrow, February 15th!