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EDITORIAL | The Valieva Case is More a Rebuke of Russia than the Figure Skater

A four-year doping ban against Kamila Valieva was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but harsher punishment of Russia itself was wanted this time.

Figure skater Kamila Valieva was only 15 years old when she helped Russia win the gold medal in the team competition at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. But then it was discovered she had taken a banned substance prior to the competition.

On January 29, 2024, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced its final decision on sanctions on the skater for the doping scandal. It suspended Valieva from competition for four years from December 25, 2021, and disqualified her results for all competitions she competed in after that date. That included all titles, medals, and prizes. 

In response to this announcement, the International Skating Union (ISU) deducted Valieva's points from the total points won by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team in 2022. With that change, the United States won the gold at the Beijing Olympics and Japan the silver medal. Russia fell to third place in the results column. 

Kamila Valieva (ROC) after completing her free skating performance at the Beijing Winter Olympics. February 17, 2022, at the Capital Gymnasium. (© Sankei by Masamichi Kirihara)

Russia's Angry Response

Legendary coach Tatiana Tarasova, a towering figure in Russian skating circles, responded angrily, telling the Russian media: "They hate our country. How dare they vent their hatred for Russia on this one child." 

Tarasova's comment is correct in part. Harsh penalties should have been directed at the ROC and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) as well as Valieva. Since the ROC team escaped disqualification, Canada remains in fourth place in the results. Skate Canada said it was "extremely disappointed" with the decision and said it would "consider all options to appeal."

Since she was only 15 at the time it defies reason to believe that Valieva ingested the banned substance trimetazidine, a heart medicine, on her own. It is only natural that suspicion should fall on her coach and ROC doctors. 

RUSADA's decision to lift Valieva's suspension was also abnormal. It did so after accepting the absurd claim that she had drunk water from the same glass as her grandfather, who suffers from heart disease.

Kamila Valieva and other ROC athletes celebrate after finishing first in the figure skating team event at the Beijing Winter Olympics. February 7, 2022. (©Kyodo)

Russia's Doping History

At the time of the Beijing Olympics, Russia was already sanctioned for systematic doping violations and a cover-up perpetrated at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) prohibited the use of the Russian flag and national anthem during the Beijing Games. However, Russian athletes were able to compete as individuals affiliated with the ROC. That they were even allowed to participate in the team event defies belief. 

The Sochi Olympics took place in Russia itself, so the doping by Russian athletes was considered a state-sponsored act. Since the Russians were up to their old tricks in Beijing, harsher punishment was surely called for. 

Kamila Valieva (© Sankei by Masamichi Kirihara)

It's just a shoe!

Behavior Destroying the Values of Sports

In addition to its doping irregularities, Russia (along with its ally Belarus) faced IOC's rebuke for its invasion of neighbor Ukraine. As a result, the IOC banned teams from either country from competing in the Olympics. But Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to participate in the Paris Olympics as individuals labeled as "neutral athletes." 

Doping destroys the values of sports, which are premised on fair play and equity. It also affects the mental and physical health of athletes. Moreover, armed aggression is behavior that fundamentally upends the ideal of the Olympics as a festival of peace.

The decisions by the IOC and CAS have let Moscow off far too easily. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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