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Russia Controversy is the Center of the Olympics, Again

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Nothing new here. Russia is involved in yet another controversial doping scandal. This time it involves 15 year old figure skater Kamila Valieva, who led Russia to a pending gold medal in the team event last week.

Valieva has been dominant this season. She won the European Championships and recorded the highest short program score ever in the process. Valieva also became the first woman to land a quad jump in Olympic competition and has led the Russian Olympic Committee to a gold medal in the team event.

The day after the team event concluded in Beijing, the medal ceremony was due to take place. However, it was postponed due to a flagged drug test that was taken in December during the Russian Figure Skating Championships. The results of the test showed that Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, which is used to treat reduced blood flow to the heart. Trimetazidine has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) since 2014. This can result in improved endurance for Valieva. In fact, she landed two quads in the longer free skate portion of the event, which could be attributed to that drug.

A WADA-accredited Swedish lab reported the positive test to the Russia Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), who then gave a provisional suspension to Valieva. All of this was not made public until Duncan Mackay and Michael Pavitt of Inside the Games reported it.

The next day, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was asked about the situation in their daily briefing. IOC spokesperson Mark Adams didn’t give a conclusive answer as to what was happening. Meanwhile, Valieva was challenging the suspension made by RUSADA behind the scenes. RUSADA decided to lift her suspension allowing Valieva to compete in the women’s singles event.

On Friday, the IOC, International Skating Union (ISU) and WADA decided to challenge the ruling to lift Valieva’s suspension by appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for Russian president Vladimir Putin, supported Valieva by stating, “We boundlessly and fully support Kamila Valieva and call on everyone to support her.” Peskov then goes on to say, “You are a Russian – perform and defeat everybody.”

What Peskov said perfectly encapsulates what Russian sports are all about. Let’s blindly support this athlete despite the fact that she tested positive for a banned drug. What message does that send to young Russian athletes, especially figure skaters? In fact, the reporters from Inside the Games received online death threats for reporting the truth. Also, a British reporter asked Valieva if she was a doper. Of course, Valieva didn’t answer. The British reporter was surrounded by Russian journalists who reportedly said that “our Russian journalists can tear you to pieces,” according to The Guardian.

Early Monday morning on the east coast, the CAS made their ruling that Valieva was cleared to compete. The only saving grace is that if Valieva were to finish top 3 like expected, the medal ceremony would be delayed. In the CAS’s ruling, they cited that Valieva could not be immediately suspended because she is a minor (15 years old).

If this is the case, why are there the same rules for each sport? The prime age for figure skaters is different than the prime age for hockey players. Same thing with skateboarders and cyclists. The bottom line is that she tested positive for a banned substance, and she should be indefinitely suspended.

One might argue that Valieva did not know what was being put into her body. However, NBC figure skating analysts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski were interviewed by Mike Tirico early Monday morning about the decision. Weir and Lipinski explained how vigorous the drug policy is in the figure skating world when they competed. They had to double check if certain common cold medicine didn’t count as an illegal drug. These athletes have to know what goes into their body and this failed test is inexcusable, especially after the previous state sponsored doping scandal back in 2014.

The IOC constantly preaches sportsmanship and fair play, but they refuse to hold nations accountable when they need to. Let us not forget that Valieva is 15 years old. She is not fully developed as a person yet, both physically and mentally. This is unethical and the Russians have made it clear that they care only about performance and not about developing these athletes as human beings.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland released a statement after the ruling was made. She said, “It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport.” She continued, “Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that right is being denied.”

Hirshland’s statement is spot on. It is unfair to the other 25-30 skaters knowing that Valieva tested positive for a PED when they go out to compete.

Also, what message does this send to other young athletes out there. Just because you are a minor doesn’t mean that you are exempt from the rules of fair play.

If the WADA and the IOC aren’t going to suspend Valieva, then what’s the point? What are we doing here? She tested positive for a banned drug and is allowed to compete. Please tell me how that makes sense.

This ruling will leave a stain on the women’s figure skating competition which is due to take place on Tuesday & Thursday.

The bottom line is that the IOC, CAS, WADA and all other sporting agencies that promote fair play need to start cracking down on Russia and start holding them more accountable.

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