Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian figure skater who tested positive for performance- enhancing drugs, will be allowed to skate after a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The shocking decision was made Monday in favor of the Russian Olympic Committee, ruling that the young figure skater should not be suspended despite testing positive for a banned heart medication. The decision received immediate backlash.
The court ruled that since Valieva was under 16 years of age, the Trimetazidine found in her system was “not her fault.” She is a “protected person” under the world anti-doping rules due to her status as a minor.
The ruling means that the Russian skater will be allowed to compete in the upcoming Individual Competition on Tuesday, where she is a heavy favorite for the gold medal. Kamila Valieva will be seeking her second medal, having just won alongside the Russian Olympic Committee team figure skating event.
“The Panel considered that preventing the Athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances,” the Court of Arbitration for Sport wrote in their surprising decision.
Controversy began last Monday, Feb. 7, when the positive drug test delayed her first Olympic medal ceremony. The team event’s medal ceremony will not occur, the 2022 International Olympic Committee announced, and neither will the medal ceremony for the Individual Competition if Kamila Valieva takes home a medal on Tuesday.
Backlash quickly erupted from multiple sides following the court’s announcement regarding Kamila Valieva. Even for those who blame her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, many fans and sports analysts thought it was unfair that other medal winners would also have their ceremonies taken from them should Valieva win.
“We are devastated that they will leave Beijing without their medals in hand,” the U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement, “but we appreciate the intention of the IOC to ensure the right medals are awarded to the right individuals.”
The decision puts many other skaters, such as Nathan Chen and the rest of the second-place American team, unsure if they will leave Beijing with the silver medal or the gold. If greater evidence of drug use is found in the investigation, Russia would be disqualified, the United States would win gold, Japan would take home the silver, and Canada would move from fourth place to a bronze medal.
Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, stated that she was “disappointed by the message this decision sends.”
“Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that right is being denied,” she continued. “This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”
Other critics such as Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times agreed with Hirshland, calling the decision “disgraceful.”
Nevertheless, Valieva’s fans have sided with the 15-year-old Russian skater, especially after she became the first female Olympic athlete to land a quadruple jump. Many sports analysts believe that her coach should be blamed.
Vox recently wrote a report exposing abuse claims against Kamila Valieva’s coach Eteri Tutberidze. There were also accounts of rampant eating disorders, early retirements, and stunted puberty.
“I was, you can say, not drinking water at all… we just rinsed our mouths and spit it all out,” 15-year-old Russian skater Alina Zagitova said back in 2018 about her eating disorders. “You just need to shut your mouth and don’t eat! Or at least a little. I eat, but in small quantities.”
At the 2018 Olympic Games, Zagitova took home the gold medal, later telling Sport Express that coaches, including Eteri Tutberidze, shortened her diet to halt the effects of puberty. Since puberty adds height and weight to a skater’s body, many difficult tricks essentially become harder to pull off past the age of 15.
Over the weekend, the controversial Russian figure skating coach stated that “we are absolutely sure that Kamila is innocent and pure.”
Other commentators, however, went further and blamed the larger circle of adults in Valieva’s world, including her parents, for allowing her stellar performance to be marred by controversy and claims of cheating.
“The saddest part [about the doping scandal] is that as a sport, and people who are fans of the Olympics, we want to celebrate… the way that Kamila Valieva was able to skate in that team competition is amazing,” former figure-skater Adam Rippon stated.
“Every program she did, I was one of the first people to stand up because I was in awe of what I was seeing. And, they ruined that,” he continued. “They ruined that for her, and they ruined it for all of us who really were so excited that there was this incredible talent.”
Adam Rippon claimed that as a minor, she was most likely unaware she was “doping,” adding that “the adults completely failed her.”
Kamila Valieva, who will compete in Tuesday’s Individual Competition, has yet to comment publicly on the court’s decision.