USOPC’s Sarah Hirshland: Russia should be sanctioned for doping, war in Ukraine

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Frustrated by its doping scandals and invasion of Ukraine, Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, wants Russia to be punished harshly in the international sporting world.

“Russia must be punished,” she told a small group of reporters at the Washington Hilton on Monday. “What it is and what it looks like is a conversation that every sports organization continues to have.”

When asked whether those penalties should be for the unsolved case involving figure skater Kamila Valieva testing positive for a banned substance ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics or for the invasion, she smiled and replied “Yes”.

“I was there at the Paralympics during the opening ceremony [just days after Russia’s attack began] like Ukrainian athletes… and the hairs on my arms stood on end,” she said. “Few people felt it as abundantly as I did because few people in this country watched it on television, few people were there in person. I was. It was brutal.”

Hirshland, who is in Washington on Wednesday for a ceremony at the White House that will honor American Olympians from the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games and the Beijing 2022 Games, refrained from calling for a ban on Russia from the Games Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, saying such punishment “must be issued by the authorities that administer that jurisdiction.

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Still, Hirshland’s words were her harshest since news of Valieva’s positive test in December broke a day after the skater helped the Russian Olympic Committee win gold in the team skating event in february. Part of that anger, Hirshland said, comes from the fact that the U.S. skaters who won silver still haven’t received their medals; the International Olympic Committee has refused to hand over medals from the event until the World Anti-Doping Agency has completed its investigation.

But the slow pace of that investigation, which is expected to be completed this summer, has annoyed Hirshland, and she fears the Russian anti-doping agency – which is handling the early parts of the investigation – is not conducting a proper investigation. She complained that Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly backed Valieva at a ceremony last week where he said her success had not been achieved “dishonestly”.

“You see reports of Putin defending Valieva, and you wonder, ‘If he is defending Valieva before the process is complete, how can you consider there is integrity around the process?’ said Hirshland.

Obtaining medals for the American skaters who competed in the team event was one of the USOPC’s priorities after the Olympics. “Unfortunately, the moment is lost,” she said of the lack of a medal ceremony. “I don’t think you can ever get that moment back. So now our job is to do our best to create another moment.

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Hirshland declined to say whether President Biden will highlight skaters from the team event at Wednesday’s event. There are no further plans to honor them until the Valieva investigation is complete.

Most of Hirshland’s criticism of Russia was related to doping. She noted that many American athletes she spoke to felt compassion for Valieva, seeing the skater, who turned 16 last month, as the victim of a massive doping scheme. Asked about the invasion of Ukraine and the amount of penalties to consider, she paused, then pointed to bans of Russian athletes by the IOC and other sports organizations in recent weeks.

“I will say this: it has been interesting to see the Olympic and Paralympic ecosystem, the movements, the people in the movements and how the international federations have reacted to the IOC statement regarding Russia,” she said. “That tells me how quickly everyone lined up around everyone saying he was out. I don’t think it’s entirely due to the invasion of Ukraine.


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