Kamila Valíeva, a doping case turned into a new Kremlin propaganda weapon

BarcelonaNo one knows exactly where Kamila Valíeva is, who, at 16, is training in hiding somewhere in Russia. The young Russian ice skater, who burst into international tournaments two years ago with a strength and talent that left everyone frozen, has become the protagonist of one of the biggest sports scandals of recent years, a scandal where politics is increasingly taking on a bigger role, as the Russian government uses it as a symbol of the attacks its country receives from the West. When he tested positive in February 2022, the world still didn’t know that Russia would start a war. Now that there is conflict, Valíeva’s case has been used by the Kremlin to claim that there is a campaign against her sport.

During the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, it was learned that Valieva, then 15, had tested positive for a banned substance a few months earlier during the Russian state ice skating championships. The skater from Kazan, a true technical prodigy who had become the first woman to perform a quadruple jump at an Olympic meet, was allowed to continue competing in a case that remains open.

Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency released the results of a months-long investigation this week, saying Valieva was “not at fault or negligent” for her anti-doping code violation before the Games Beijing Olympics in 2022, which is why she would not be penalized beyond losing her results at the national championships in Russia in 2021, when she tested positive. According to international regulations, it was the Russian anti-doping agency that had to assess the skater’s possible positive, since the violation would have been committed in an event on its territory in a local competition. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in a statement, was quick to criticize Russia’s handling of the case, saying it was “concerned by the decision” and would “not hesitate to exercise its right of appeal ·lation before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, as appropriate”. The WADA had recommended a four-year ban for Valíeva. Now he can take the case to the CAS, in a new incident where both the International Olympic Committee and WADA make it clear they are suspicious of how Russian sport is handling doping cases.

Valíeva, who was 15 in 2022, entered the Beijing Games last year as a heavy favorite due to her superb performances in previous tournaments, becoming the first woman to do a quadruple jump at the Games. Thanks to his skating dominance, he led Russia to the gold medal in the team event during the first days of the Games, but the day after that success it was revealed that he had tested positive a few weeks earlier for a prohibited cardiac medication that could increase endurance. Travis T. Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, called it an act of “total incompetence” because by taking so long to make the result public, it already blew up in the middle of the Games . The Americans, who had seen their skaters take team silver, demanded that Russia forfeit the gold medal.

Valíeva, however, was allowed to continue skating in the Olympics after filing an appeal. After leading the women’s event in the qualifying round and under pressure from critics, she failed in the free exercise and finished fourth, off the podium. As she left the court, she was booed by her coach, the controversial Eteri Tutberidze. “Why did you stop fighting? Tell me, why?”, he told her in front of everyone. The gold medal winner was another Russian, Anna Cherbakova. Both the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency then demanded that the Russian technical team be investigated, especially Tutberidze, responsible for dozens of medals for young Russian skaters. Tutberidze argues that the ideal age to shine in skating is 15 and 16 years old, which is why he has worked with a lot of young people who end up quitting skating at a young age. And Valíeva was the crown jewel of her school. The uproar caused by that case allowed a change in international skating regulations, which raised the minimum age to participate in international tournaments to 17 years.

Russian sport and the stain of doping

Russian sport has been tainted by doping in the last decade, after a state structure that allowed many of its athletes to dope came to light, especially during the Winter Olympics hosted by the Russians in Sochi in 2014. Grigori Rodzhenkov , the former director of the Moscow laboratory responsible for the network, fled to the United States then and made public details of this network organized to mock the WADA. The scandal resulted in Russia being expelled from international competitions and unable to compete in the next Games under its name. In fact, at the 2022 Games he was still doing it under the name ofRussian Olympic athletes, without using their flag or playing their anthem in case of medals. The 2014 scandal saw the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s laboratories shut down as they were seen as working for the Kremlin. In 2020 they were reopened, but the Russian anti-doping agency had to send their samples abroad, where they were analyzed.

Valíeva tested positive for trimetazidine in a test done on December 25, 2021 in Saint Petersburg during the Russian Championships, proof that the young skater won. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada), which is responsible for testing, sent the urine to the laboratory in Stockholm, where the results were not available until February 8, just after Valieva’s Olympic debut in China. Once the Russians learned of the news from the Stockholm lab, they removed the young skater from group discipline and sanctioned her without making it public. But 24 hours later Valíeva was back in training, having lodged an appeal which the Russian anti-doping agency had accepted allowing her to continue taking part. The skater argued that she had taken medicine for her grandfather’s heart problems, with whom she lived. Both the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Skating Federation demanded that Valíeva be sanctioned and removed from the Games with immediate effect. The decision was left in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAS), which decided that Valíeva could participate while the appeal was pending resolution.

The Kremlin then explained that it was convinced that the case was “a misunderstanding”. Since then, however, the situation has changed a lot in the geopolitical field due to the start of the war in Ukraine. To WADA’s surprise, the Russian anti-doping agency has taken nearly a year to release its verdict on what happened to Valíeva, with a verdict stripping her of the 2021 Russian title, but where they argue that he could compete in the Beijing Games and therefore Russia must not lose the team gold medal. The official Russian discourse regarding the skater’s case has been evolving as the war in Ukraine approached and these days the Russian news agency was already talking about a “Western campaign” against Russia to clip the young skater’s wings .

Valíeva continues to train in Russia, away from the spotlight, hidden. The skater has hardly spoken publicly since then. The Russians are now waiting to see if WADA will take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, as rumors grow of possible further WADA intervention to cripple the anti-doping agency russian It’s not just about sports, but no one knows what to think or how to handle a young woman who started her career as a 12-year-old girl who just wanted to skate.



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