In a startling show of distrust in the way Russian officials are handling the doping case of Beijing figure skating star Kamila Valieva, the World Anti-Doping Agency has snatched the case from them and appealed directly to the highest pickled dish in sports.
That court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland, now has the case and will decide how or whether to punish Valieva for testing positive for a banned heart drug weeks before the 2022 Olympics.
Having risen to the top of her sport in just a few months, Valieva, then 15, had arrived in Beijing as the clear favorite to win the women’s singles gold medal. Amid the chaos of her positive test, she finished fourth, although she also led the Russians to gold in the team event.
The Russian anti-doping agency called Rusada had been dealing with Valieva’s doping case since February, but no decision had been made – and no information on the case’s progress was released – even though Olympic medals were at stake.
The team medals were never awarded and the award ceremony was indefinitely postponed after Valieva’s failing test was made public. The United States finished second in the team competition and Japan third, but neither athlete in the competition had the accompanying Olympic moment on the medal podium.
If the Court of Arbitration for Sport decides to strip Russia of its team’s gold medal, the United States would receive the gold medal.
Witold Banka, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, warned the Russians on Twitter last week to end Valieva’s case, to no avail. On Tuesday, he carried out his threat to force the case to move in the system.
“Although RUSADA has been formally asked to resolve the Kamila Valieva case immediately, no progress has been made,” Banka said on Tuesday on twitter.
Rusada said in recent weeks that it would not release any information about the case and would not even reveal when it would end its phase of the affair, prompting an outcry from the Olympic community. Given Russia’s recent history of rampant doping, there is good reason for outsiders to be suspicious. In what is arguably the biggest scandal in Olympic history, Russia was caught staging a state-sponsored doping program at the Sochi 2014 Games.
In the first step of Valieva’s anti-doping case, Rusada had been tasked with investigating why she tested positive before deciding if she was at fault and would serve a doping ban.
At the Beijing Olympics, an International Olympic Committee official told reporters that Valieva’s positive result may have come from contamination with heart drugs her grandfather was taking. It is unclear if that defense is now being used in the case.
The rules for the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, state that they could have appealed any Rusada decision (so could the International Skating Union, or Valieva itself). Tuesday’s decision to appeal to a higher court only hastened that process, to the cheering of many in the anti-doping movement.
Travis Tygart, the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said in a text message Tuesday that WADA’s move was an indication that the public could not trust the Russians to handle the case fairly.
“Finally some progress,” he said.
Tygart added, “It’s a fairly simple case, but at this rate we can only hope that the athletes awaiting their medals will finally get their ceremony at the Paris Olympics, if they so choose.”
WADA’s bold move does not mean the case will be brought to a quick conclusion. Cases that reach the Court of Arbitration for Sport can sit there for months before a verdict is reached. But once a decision has been made, it is considered final.
Valieva, a minor already being hailed as one of the most talented skaters in history, could face no ban and only a public warning, or she could be banned from the sport for several years.
One development could complicate any decision by the Swiss court: a bill tabled in Russia’s parliament last week aims to overturn all decisions by the Court of Arbitration for Sport relating to Russian athletes.
If the bill becomes law, Russia would be considered a violation of the World Anti-Doping Code, most likely making it ineligible for international competitions.