Kamila Valieva, a 15-year old Russian figure skater was allowed to compete at the Beijing Olympics by Court of Arbitration for Sport. That means she will take the ice in the women’s figure skating event, where she is a gold medal favorite, on Tuesday.
Russian Anti-Doping Agency, (RUSADA), had suspended Valieva indefinitely after Valieva tested positive for a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency. While the test result was reported to the lab last week, although the sample was obtained in December, it was not yet known if the positive. When Valieva appealed the suspension, RUSADA lifted it—and the International Skating Union (ISU), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and WADA contested the lifting of the suspension, asking the CAS to rule on its merit.
The CAS decided that Valieva should not be suspended for several reasons, including that, being under 16, she is a “protected person” under the doping agency’s rules, meaning that she may not have full agency over decisions about medications or other substances she may take. The positive result of Valieva’s doping test was performed on December 25, prior to Jan. 27, when Olympic jurisdiction begins for testing. Finally, the results of Valieva’s positive test were not provided to RUSADA until Feb. 7, the day that Valieva competed in the finals of the team event, preventing her from having enough time to prepare a defense or other legal support. She became the first woman skater in Olympic history to achieve a quadruple-jump at the Games.
LEARN MORE Inside the Olympic Doping Fight Over Figure Skater Kamila Valieva’s Positive Drug Test
The decision means that—at least for now—the standings for the team skating event, in which the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) earned gold, the U.S. silver and Japan bronze stand. Additionally, Valieva will be allowed to compete in the women’s event. She attended the training session she was assigned in Beijing on Monday.
However, the decision doesn’t mean that the matter is solved. The CAS specifically noted that its conclusion is focused only on the validity of the lifting of the suspension, and that “it was not requested to rule on the merits of this case, nor to examine the legal consequences relating to the results of the team event in figure skating, as such issues will be examined in other proceedings.”
A Russian newspaper published a report a day following the conclusion of the team figure skaters’ event that Valieva tested positive for doping.
On Feb. 11, the International Testing Agency (ITA) confirmed the positive test, for a heart drug called trimetazidine, which is on WADA’s banned list because it can help athletes to boost blood flow and therefore endurance. According to the ITA Valieva test positive for trimetazidine from the Russian national championships held in December. The sample was taken by RUSADA. This sample was submitted to WADA certified labs in Stockholm, Sweden. RUSADA was not informed of the results until Feb. 7. In a statement, RUSADA said it issued a provisional suspension for Valieva, which the skater appealed, and after a hearing on Feb. 9, RUSADA decided to lift the suspension, allowing her to continue training for the women’s singles event.
This case is not over. Valieva tested positive for the banned substance. The facts surrounding this still need to investigated. It’s not clear, for example, whether Valieva has a valid reason for taking the heart drug, or was using it illegally. RUSADA’s initial suspension suggests there may not be a medical reason for the medication, which calls into question the role that the adults around Valieva played in the case.
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee immediately expressed disappointment with the decision, noting that “athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Today, however, this right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”
Russian athletes are competing in Beijing under doping sanctions. If they win the gold, they compete under the ROC and not Russia. They are prohibited from using their national flags or hearing their national anthem.
While Valieva may skate on Tuesday, the event will be overshadowed by the specter a banned substance, and inevitable questions about whether her accomplishments on the ice can be traced to an unfair advantage—rather than celebrating a talented young skater who made history. Social media has been filled with support for the young skater, who is asking for Olympic officials’ investigation and punishment of those responsible.
“The adults around her have completely failed her,” 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Adam Rippon wrote on Twitter. “They’ve put her in this awful position and should be punished. The people in charge are responsible. Flops”
Katarina Witt was a gold medalist in the Olympic Games. She shared her thoughts on Twitter. “[Valieva]This isn’t to be blamed. If anything, the responsible adults should be banned from sport forever.”