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Perspective | Kamila Valieva ruling might bring justice, but it can’t bring joy

Perspective | Kamila Valieva ruling might bring justice, but it can’t bring joy

طوبیٰ Tooba 55 years ago 0 0

Whether there is justice in Monday’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to support the suspension of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva is a murky matter at best. What the decision is devoid of, without question, is joy.

There’s none for the American team members who now will be awarded gold medals. There’s none for Valieva, still a teenager, whose competitive future is in doubt. There’s none for the Russians, whose state-sponsored doping system for their Olympic athletes was exposed a decade ago, and whose presence in each Games since is tainted by mistrust.

Sports are built on so many foundational elements — diligence, discipline, perseverance, athleticism, competition. But they are nothing without the base pursuit of joy, of fun. That can be in the work that anonymously goes into preparation. It certainly comes out in the celebration of victory.

In turn, the Olympics are about the moments in which that joy bursts forth. What have we here, in the remnants from a competition that ended nearly two years ago? The moment hasn’t just passed. The moment is lost, forever.

That’s true, first, for Valieva, a child pawn in it all. Whatever happened at the 2021 Russian championships, where Valieva popped a test for a substance called trimetazidine, was almost certainly not the skater’s fault. She was 15.

The drug is most frequently used to relieve chest pain caused by coronary heart disease. It is listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency under the category of “hormone and metabolic modulators.” Whatever happened, Valieva almost assuredly didn’t seek out trimetazidine as a means of helping her execute her short program.

“The doping of children is unforgivable,” WADA said in a statement Monday. “Doctors, coaches or other support personnel who are found to have provided performance-enhancing substances to minors should face the full force of the World Anti-Doping Code.”

Yet Monday, the only person punished was Valieva, still just 17.

The moment, then, comes too late for the International Olympic Committee as well. There was a way for the IOC to ensure there would be no Valieva case long before the 2022 Games. That would have been banning not only “Russia” from the 2018 PyeongChang, 2020 Tokyo and 2022 Beijing Olympics. The IOC took those steps, and there was no Russian flag, no Russian anthem, no Russian colors.

But this was a half measure, and a harmful one. The full-throated opposition to Russia’s orchestrated scam — which was first revealed by German media in 2014 and further exposed by whistleblowing doctor Grigory Rodchenkov in 2016 — would have been to ban Russian athletes from the Olympics. The IOC balked, certainly not in small part to avoid alienating a nation that may well make a lucrative bid on future Games. So here we are.

There is precedent for suspending both a country’s leadership and its athletes. In the early 1900s, South Africa became the first African nation to send athletes to the Olympics. But before the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, the IOC barred the nation because of its blatantly racist segregation policies. The IOC makes a habit of saying it can’t and won’t get involved in politics, and it repeatedly ignores human rights abuses if those abuses are carried out by countries willing to host a Games. There’s precedent, however, that says it can act more forcefully. It just needs the will.

Oh, and about the Americans. Recall the awkwardness of the Valieva case in Beijing, where the story all but hijacked the Games. News of her positive test broke only after she became the star of the Russian group that won the team competition. The American team — Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, Karen Chen, Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier, Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates — figured it had won silver. Then the IOC postponed the medal ceremony.

The entire operation has been on pause since. The Americans had no moment. They’ll never have a moment.

“Today is a day we have been eagerly awaiting for two years, as it is a significant win not only for Team USA athletes but also for athletes worldwide who practice fair play and advocate for clean sport,” Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a statement Monday. “… We now anticipate the day when we can wholeheartedly celebrate these athletes, along with their peers from around the world. The moment is approaching, and when it arrives, it will serve as a testament to the justice and recognition they truly deserve.”

Something tells me the athletes in question won’t feel any sense of spontaneous celebration — any unbridled joy — whenever some ceremony is rigged up to grant them their medals.

The CAS decision on the Valieva case isn’t righting a wrong. It’s further punishing a person who probably had no role in her demise while allowing her handlers — and her country — to walk without ramifications. The American team will receive gold medals that they can place on their mantels. Maybe there’s some justice in that conclusion. But nearly two years after the competition, there certainly wasn’t any joy in the pursuit.

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