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One Skater Cheats, Everybody Loses

by George S Rossano



(14 Feb. 2022)  At the approach of the Women's event at the Beijing Winter Games, the Kamila Valieva drug doping scandal has been ongoing for over a week.  Valieva avoided a provisional suspension, due to her age and a loophole in the rules that the Russian Federation has thus far successfully exploited.  Still, the possibility remains that eventually her case will result in penalties, and possible adjustments to the results of the Team and Women's event.  But even at this point, with the case yet to be resolved, the damage she has done to the sport is already palpable; and no matter the outcome of the case, the damage is sure to increase and be long lasting, in a situation where everybody loses.  Perhaps the worst case will be if she gets only a slap on the wrist and is allowed to keep any medals she wins in Beijing, as well as Team ROC also keeping the team gold.

Unless totally exhonorated, Valieva will be branded for life as a drug cheat and any medal from these Games will be tainted.  The doping rules presume at nearly 16 she is unable to comprehend the concept that to use illegal substances is unethical, immoral and a violation of the basic concept of fair play in sports.  On the contrary, few people seriously believe that an Olympic athlete, at her age, is not aware that using banned substances is wrong.  The only way she comes off from this untainted, is if it can be proven that she was drugged without her knowledge or consent - something impossible to prove without an admission of guilt by the parties administering the drug.  [Not added 15 Feb. 2022:  Russian lawyers are now claiming Valieva was contaminated by some kind of transference of her grandfathers meds, to the skater.  Her grandfather is said to drive her to training from time to time.]

Next to lose are her coaching team.  It is impossible to believe a 15-year-old would have the knowledge or ability to obtain and use Trimetazidine on her own.  Either one or more were directly involved, or turned a blind eye to any other adult that might have assisted in the violation.  The reputations of her coaching team, thus, will also be tainted forever if the drug use is upheld.

By extension, given the long proven history of state sponsored cheating by Russian athletes, this is another nail in the coffin for the reputation of the Russian federation and its government overlords.  Further, all of the "no comments" by Russian athletes at the Games make them guilty of condoning cheating to win at any cost.  It gives the impression that the Russian win-at-all-costs mentality is pervasive from top to bottom.

Other commentators have covered how this scandal reflect dismally on the reputation of the IOC in handling the repeat offender nature of the Russian athletic establishment, with no need to go into that further.  But one final loser that bears mention is the sport of figure skating itself.

Skating loses, and loses in several ways.  Just as skating has suffered in fan interest and participation for 20 years from the judging corruption scandal from the Salt Lake Olympic Games, skating will likewise suffer from this scandal.

Why should fans who follow figure skating as a sport continue to support the sport if it is no more than entertainment in the guise of a sport tainted by drug fueled cheating.

Why should media outlets who now barely consider figure skating to be a real sport cover that sport if the competition is corrupted by drug fueled cheating.

Following Salt Lake many a parent reacted by thinking, why should l I spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to put my child into a sport where the judging is corrupt and the competition  is not fair?  Add to that now, why should I put my child into a sport corrupted by drug use that international sports governing bodies seem incapable of stamping out?

For the same reasons, why would a sponsor want to give financial support to athletes if the athletes they support don't get a level playing field to compete on.

Why should corporate sponsors give funding to International and National governing bodies, if the sport is corrupted by drug use that those bodies are unable or unwilling to eradicate?

If Valieva is not exonerated and still ends up with any medals from the Beijing Games, I can't wrap my head around the idea how she and her coaches will be able look at themselves in the mirror for the rest of their lives, without shame, for all the damage they have done (and will do) to Figure Skating.