Valieva’s future at the Beijing Olympics hangs in the balance after the stunning revelation she had tested positive for a banned substance before winning the team event on Monday, but that the positive drug test report took more than six weeks to be made public.
She is one of the youngest athletes ever to test positive for doping at the Olympics.
Fans of figure skating, athletes and anti-doping advocates have expressed outrage over a teenager being at the center of a doping controversy with a positive test for a drug used to treat heart conditions like angina.
Many have questioned the role of the adults around the teenage skater and the continuing scourge of Russian doping in international sports.
The Kremlin – alreading facing Western diplomatic wrath over a troop buildup near Ukraine – calls Valieva’s case a “misunderstanding.”
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, told Reuters that the Russian prodigy’s failed drug test was a reminder of how vulnerable young athletes remain.
“A child does not make a choice to take those kinds of medications unless they’re given to her by somebody who’s in authority,” Denhollander told Reuters.
“What we’re really seeing is the incredible damage that has come yet again to a child who has been under the control of adults who value her, not for who she is but for what she can produce for them.”
On Saturday, spokesman Mark Adams said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would welcome an investigation into the entourage surrounding Valieva and other young athletes by anti-doping authorities.
“Entourage has been overlooked in the past,” Adams said.
Valieva is due to compete again on Tuesday in the women’s individual event. By then, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) should have ruled on her case from a closed boardroom on the second floor of a Beijing hotel.
The delay in Valieva receiving her positive drug test result loomed large over the legal case on Saturday.
Valieva was suspended by the Russian anti-doping body after the positive test report on Feb. 8, the day after the gold medal victory. The suspension was then lifted on Feb. 9 after she appealed, allowing her to continue to compete. Her next event, the women’s single, is on Tuesday.
More than six weeks went by between Valieva’s sample being taken on Dec. 25 and Feb. 8 when she was notified by a lab in Stockholm, Sweden that she had tested positive for the banned heart medication trimetazidine. The Stockholm lab is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
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The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and the Russian Anti-Doping Association have questioned the timeline.
On Saturday, the International Olympic Committee said the delay was a question for WADA.
“I can’t speak directly about the delay,” Adam said. “It was a WADA-sanctioned lab in Stockholm so that is a question that should be directed to WADA.”
WADA could not be immediately contacted by Reuters.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have asked the CAS to reinstate Kalieva’s suspension.
The IOC said on Saturday that the hearing date would not be made public.
‘Time out’ needed?
Senior IOC member Dick Pound told Reuters on Friday that Russia may need an Olympic “timeout” now that it’s found itself in a potential doping scandal once again.
“At a certain point if they are absolutely incorrigible you end up with the position of take a country timeout,” said Pound in a phone interview from Florida. “We could say we can help you. You got a problem. We can concentrate on it. Take a time out for one or two, or three Olympic Games until you get this under control.”
Russian athletes at the Beijing Games are already not competing under their flag while carrying the ROC on their uniforms, and their anthem is not being played at any ceremonies, following sanctions imposed for the widespread doping across many sports exposed after the Sochi Games.
Russia has acknowledged some shortcomings in its implementation of anti-doping rules, but denies running a state-sponsored doping programme.
“The Russians don’t help themselves because they have been absolutely unrepentant,” said Pound. “They won’t admit anything, they appeal every single decision.”
“I think the approach probably has been too lenient to allow them to compete as the Russian Olympic Committee.”
Valieva’s failed drug test has reawakened global anger over Moscow’s doping history and outrage over how a minor came to have a prohibited drug in her system.
“There are all kinds of things going on and I’m sure the Russians have lawyered up and are trying anything and everything to control the damage,” said Pound. “But how could you have possibly exposed her to that risk?
“This is not like a tainted supplement — this is a non-therapeutic use of a fairly potent drug.”
(Editing by Leela de Kretser; Editing by Michael Perry)
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