2022 Olympics draw attention to need for doping policy reform

By Emma Reilly
Opinion Editor

Many world-renowned athletes involved in doping scandals see their stellar athletic performances overshadowed by controversy. This pattern unfolded once again during the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Following a record-breaking routine — in which she became the first woman to land a quad jump in Olympic history — news spread that Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine. The drug is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and affects the function of the heart.

According to The New York Times, Valieva’s sample contained a total of three substances known for aiding heart function. Despite this, Valieva was still allowed to compete in a stunningly inconsistent handling of Olympic policy.

The news was shocking to many and quickly gained attention in the media for several reasons. First, Valieva is from Russia. According to NPR, the country is known for frequent doping incidents amongst its athletes. Second, the skater is also a minor, which calls into question issues of liability and consent.

All of these factors made for compelling and rather dramatic news. People began to question whether Valieva should be allowed to hold the title of the first woman to land a quad jump in an Olympic competition. Accusations of coercion and duty of care failure were directed toward Valiva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze.

All this being said, a deeper issue was at play. Hypocrisy and inconsistency on the part of the International Olympic Committee were highlighted by the treatment of sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, whose athletic career was also impacted by a doping controversy.

Richardson took to Twitter soon after the IOC’s decision regarding Valieva’s positive test was confirmed. The American athlete questioned how the circumstances differed between her situation and Valieva’s.

Richardson was not allowed to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was found in her system. The sprinter claimed that her usage of THC was a means of coping with the death of her biological mother.

Her reasoning aside, Richardson was right to question how the IOC made its decision about Valieva’s doping. According to NPR, the skater’s positive sample was dated back to December.

This means that if the sample had been processed in a timely fashion, Valieva — like Richardson — would have been barred from coming to Beijing in the first place.

Instead, Valieva saw the Olympics through and remains eligible to compete in the World Figure Skating Championships later this month, according to The Chicago Tribune’s Philip Hersh.

Many people rightly wondered if Richardson being a Black woman played a part in how her doping was handled.

This indicates that IOC policy is in need of reassessment. Athletes should be held to the same standards and face the same consequences for their actions regardless of their nationality or race.

One of the best ways to approach this problem is to involve athletes themselves in the consideration of doping cases.

“What’s clear is that the current system is flawed. One of the clearest of these flaws is the absence of athletes’ voices in the rule-making process,” doping expert April Henning said. “Yes, they are nominally included, and anyone can give input when WADA opens up for public comment, but it’s clear the power lies with a handful of executives.”

Henning’s solution would allow athletes to describe their individual circumstances to international decision-makers. Additionally, athletes could advocate for themselves if they felt their case was being handled unfairly.

Had Richardson been given such an opportunity, she would be able to raise her concerns with Olympic officials. A case could also have been made on Valieva’s behalf as a minor. Her level of culpability in her own doping case could be better ascertained by speaking to Valieva and the adults in her life instead of referring only to predetermined rules.

Both Valieva and Richardson’s doping cases would have benefitted from nuanced, athlete-focused responses. With recent concerns and inconsistencies in mind, the IOC should consider reworking their doping policies.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Featured Photo Caption: 15-year-old Kamila Valieva was subject to a doping inquiry following a positive test for trimetazidine.

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