It’s not about Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old figure skater who was part of the Russian Olympic Committee team that won a gold medal here – but has yet to receive it. At this point, the details of this case – Russian media reports that Valieva tested positive for a banned substance in December – are murky at best. They always are.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that Valieva ingested trimetazidine, a drug that can be used to treat chest pain but is on the prohibited list because it increases blood flow efficiency and improves endurance. , then tested positive in December, as was reported. Vilifying Valieva, favorite for women’s gold, does nothing for anyone. The idea of a 15-year-old trying to evade the World Anti-Doping Agency and fight her way to multiple gold medals on her own is laughable. This is a systemic issue, and Valieva – even though she took this drug and even though this drug helped her in any way, both of which are at issue at the moment – is only a product of the system from which it arises.
About this system: Rewind to July 2016, with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics at your fingertips. At that time, there were independent documentaries, independent commissions and independent reports that laid bare evidence that Russia had, among other things, systematically swapped dirty urine samples for clean ones to cover up the doping. The International Olympic Committee collected this evidence and decided not ban Russia from these Games. In a move that matches what is being played out here, the IOC has simply abdicated responsibility and handed it over to the 28 federations that oversee individual sports internationally.
Never mind that these federations are ill-equipped to make such decisions. Put aside the ridiculous idea that dirty sports were accused of cleaning themselves on purpose. What mattered was that the IOC could kick in the street. It’s the elite too.
That was the opportunity, right there: ban Russian athletes for four years — a full Olympic cycle, covering one summer and one winter — and maybe we wouldn’t be there. Instead, the can fell here in Beijing all these years later. The positive potential of Valieva and the clamor surrounding it stems from the fact that the IOC vetted athletes and raked in individual cases, but never held the system accountable.
Instead, we carried out unnecessary wardrobe cleaning, forcing competitors to wear “Olympic Athlete from Russia” on their uniforms in PyeongChang and the ROC logo ever since. And we got new music when a Russian takes gold, swapping the Russian national anthem for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
What was needed – to serve Valieva, to serve her teammates, to serve the athletes she competes against – was radical change imposed from the outside. The simplest view is to portray Valieva’s competitors as victims, because if a “dirty” athlete beats a “clean” athlete, there is a clear injustice. Indeed, the IOC postponed the medal ceremony for the team competition, citing the controversy’s status as a “legal case”. If the Russians were disqualified due to the Valieva violation, the American athletes could be declared gold medalists.
All of this has so many people here wringing their hands in righteous indignation. In an interview with the Around the Rings website, Susanne Lyons, chair of the board of directors of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said her “great fear” was that doping violations were not handled consistently between countries and national Olympic committees.
“Truly, all the credibility of the Olympic movement and the Paralympic movement is about telling us that we truly believe and live the values that we say we stand for,” Lyons said. “And I just hope that’s what we see in this specific situation that’s happening today.”
Lyons’ organization, it should be noted, oversaw a system that allowed for widespread sexual assaults of teenage girls over the years. When it comes to preaching morality, be careful.
It’s a sporting crisis, though – a crisis of confidence. Athlete defense experts argue that the aggrieved parties here are not just those taking on the Russians. It’s the Russians themselves, because the attitude has been around for too long: either you’re in the system or you won’t compete. It calls for a complete overhaul, not the semantic four-year ban WADA issued in 2019, a ban the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced to two years in 2020.
What difference did it make? The exonerated Russian athletes were in Tokyo last summer and are here now. Some of these athletes, on skates, won gold in figure skating on Monday. The IOC has not commented – in fact, deflected questions – on the status of these medals, let alone the sanctity of the competition.
“We don’t want to hear about the other stuff, but it does come up,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told a news conference on Thursday. “It’s life and so it has to be dealt with, it has to be dealt with properly, it has to be dealt with appropriately and transparently, in a legal way. And we’re going to deal with it, and we’re going to deal with it. take care of it as soon as possible, but I think it’s not – it shouldn’t be and that doesn’t take away from the magic of the Games.
What a wonderful world to live in, this magical place in which Adams can speak bluntly about transparency but provides no information about what is going on.
Whatever the outcome, whatever the time, don’t pass judgment on teenage Valieva. Russian athletes are just products of the system that produces them. The IOC let this system, uh, skate. Until it demands an overhaul, why would we think that the next Olympics – or the one after that or the one after that – wouldn’t be consumed by a new version of the same old story?