The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision not to reinstate a suspension of figure skater Kamila Valieva for a doping violation that left the International Olympic Committee in the midst of another Russian drug scandal that athletes and current and former international sports organizations maintain was both inevitable and avoidable.
The presence of the Valieva, the 15-year-old gold medal favorite, in the women’s skating competition which starts Tuesday has undermined the credibility of the Olympics and cast a shadow over the Beijing Games that could have been prevented had the IOC, World Anti-Doping Agency and CAS taken tougher stands with Russia at several junctures over the past decade, according to athletes, coaches and officials.
“You get what you ask for, I think is a pretty easy summary of it,” said Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, a Montreal-based international athlete rights advocacy group funded by Fair Sport, a non-profit founded to encourage and support whistleblowers in sports.
“I think the fact that the WADA, the IOC and CAS continue to favor politics or favor and Russian interests over athlete interest and never bothered to sanction them the way they should have been, which is removal from the Games,” Koehler, a former WADA deputy director general, continued. “So yeah I think it was inevitable and I think it’s going to continue unless there are some major changes made and people start paying the price for running institutionalized doping programs.”
A sample provided by Valieva at the Russian Championships December 25 tested positive for trimetazidine, a drug banned by WADA since 2014 that increases blood flow to the heart and is usually used to treat angina. Some anti-doping experts believe trimetazidine could improve an athlete’s endurance.
But the WADA-accredited Stockholm lab that conducted the test did not inform the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) of the result until February 8, a day after Valieva helped the Russian Olympic Committee squad win the team competition.
RUSADA provisionally suspended Valieva on Feb. 8 but lifted the ban a day later after Valieva filed a formal appeal.
A three-member CAS panel denied a request by the IOC, WADA and the International Skating Union, the sport’s worldwide governing body, to reinstate the suspension following a nearly six hour hearing Monday.
“Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field,” U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said. “Unfortunately, today that right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”
But athletes, coaches and sports officials said much of the blame for the Valieva scandal rests on the IOC, WADA and CAS who at different points have all failed to ban Russian athletes from the Olympics and other international events even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the country’s widespread, systemic, state-sponsored doping program uncovered by investigations commissioned by the IOC and WADA.
Since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the IOC has stripped Russian athletes of a total of 44 medals, 12 of them gold, for doping violations at the Winter or Summer Games. By comparison, Kazakhstan has lost the second most medals due to doping violations during that time with nine. Team USA has been stripped of seven medals since 2000, three of them for track and field athlete Marion Jones at the Sydney Games.
The IOC stripped Russian athletes of 14 medals from the 2008 Summer Games. Four years later at the London Olympics, Russian athletes were stripped of 15 medals.
A report released in November 2015 from a probe led by Richard Pound, the former World Anti-Doping Agency president and the IOC’s longest serving member, outlined “a deeply rooted culture of cheating,” a state-sponsored doping program in which Russian athletes were tipped off about upcoming drug tests, and Russian anti-doping agency employees routinely accepted bribes to cover up positive tests. Moscow drug-testing lab officials admitted to intentionally destroying more than 1,400 drug test samples a few days before a WADA inspection.
Another WADA commissioned report released in 2017 found that Russia’s elaborate state-sponsored doping program involving 1,000 athletes in 30 sports produced at least 27 ill-gotten Olympic medals and undermined the integrity of two Olympic Games and several other major international sports competitions over a four-year period. The inquiry conducted by Canadian attorney Richard McLaren also found that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, the country’s Ministry of Sport, officials for the WADA-accredited Moscow drug testing lab and even the Federal Security Services (FSB) — the successor to the Soviet era KGB — were involved in covering up positive drug tests for Russian athletes and the “manipulation of” drug testing, even tampering with tests for Russian athletes at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
WADA barred Russia from international sports competitions in December 2019 for four years, including the 2020 and 2022 Olympics, citing the state-sponsored doping scheme at the Sochi Games.
CAS reduced the ban to two years in December 2020.
“At a certain point there needs to be a sanction that matches the crime and there never has been,” Koehler said.
IOC, WADA and CAS officials have all been on the defensive in Beijing about the Valieva case and the larger issue of Russian doping.
“We wouldn’t try a whole class of people and chuck them out on the basis of that,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said when pressed on why the organization didn’t implement a straight ban of Russian athletes. “We give people the right to be innocent until proven guilty.
“Yes, we took tough action, and you can see that action is still in place here, that we don’t have the Russian team competing in the same way as they are not allowed to have the flag, the anthem and many other things.
“It’s quite a tough sanction that is continuing. I think we did take tough but appropriate action.”
The IOC said it will not hold a medal ceremony during the Games for the team competition or the women’s event if Valieva wins a medal.
“In the interest of fairness to all athletes and the (nations) concerned, it would not be appropriate to hold the medal ceremony for the figure skating team event during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” the IOC said “as it would include an athlete who on the one hand has a positive A-sample, but whose violation of the anti-doping rules has not yet been established on the other hand.”
CAS director general Mattieu Reeb left a press conference announcing the Valieva decision Monday without taking questions from reporters.
WADA said it will investigate the entourage around Valieva and her coach Eteri Tutberidze. Alsu Valieva, Kamila’s mother, and Anna Kozmenko, the skater’s attorney, have told Russian media that they believe the positive was the result of the younger Valieva contacting her grandfather’s saliva from a drinking glass they both used. The grandfather, Alsu Valieva and Kozmenko said, takes trimetazidine for angina.
But the WADA investigation is expected to focus in part on Dr. Filipp Shvetsky, a member of Tutberidze’s inner circle who was reportedly banned from working with Russia’s rowing team following a 2007 doping investigation. Shvetsky has accompanied Valieva to international events this season.
But Koehler believes it will ultimately be up to athletes and the IOC’s corporate sponsors to make the IOC, WADA and CAS hold Russia accountable.
“The wave of athlete activism has increased like never before,” Koehler said. “Athletes have been forcing change everywhere, the postponement of the (Tokyo) Games, the partial ban of Belarus, the relaxation of (IOC Rule 50 that limits political speech) and they’ve been successful. They’ve been pushing and changing for what they believe is right.
“I think the wave is not going to slow down but increase, and events like this infuriate athletes but the IOC always tries to pay the long game. They did it with Russia and people forget about Russia until this happens. And next year they just can’t wait to get to Paris.
“I think it’s time for the sponsors to look at the landscape and the environment that athletes are put in and either start demanding changes from the IOC or start supporting independent athlete representation so they have revenues coming in to help athletes provide that balance.”
Source: Orange County Register