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Kamila Valieva, a 15-year-old Russian figure skater, will be allowed to continue to compete at the Olympics despite testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in December, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on Monday. After the controversial decision came out, U.S. track and field star Sha’Carri Richardson questioned the ruling, wondering how Valieva’s case differed from her own.
Valieva was temporarily suspended from the Beijing Games when her positive test from months prior came to light during the competition, after she helped the Russian Olympic Committee win gold in the figure skating team event, according to CNN. The athlete had reportedly tested positive for trimetazidine, a drug used to treat angina by increasing blood flow to the heart. The substance is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) because it can potentially enhance athletic performance. The positive test happened on December 25, according to CNN, but the results weren’t reported until February 8—one day after Valieva helped win a gold.
By contrast, Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from competing in the Summer Games in July 2021, soon after she tested positive for marijuana—a drug also banned by the WADA. Richardson said she used marijuana in Oregon, where it’s legal, to cope with emotional panic after learning of her mother’s death. In a statement following her suspension, United States Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis T. Tygart said, “The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her.”
According to The New York Times, Valieva was cleared to compete because disqualifying her would cause “irreparable harm.” In their statement, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said “exceptional circumstances” contributed to the decision, including her status as a “protected person” because she’s under the age of 16. Richardson wondered how was it calculated that excluding Valieva would cause irreparable harm, but she was expected to weather the costly consequences?
Richardson Tweeted that the only difference she can detect is her skin color.
“Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3,” Richardson wrote on Twitter. “The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
Others have pointed out that banning Richardson from the Olympics could similarly cause “irreparable harm” to her career.
“Failed in December and the world just now know however my [results] was posted within a week and my name & talent was slaughtered to the people,” Richardson continued.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee also criticized the decision to let Valieva compete, saying the decision allows Russia to disregard the rules. Currently, Russian athletes must compete for the Russian Olympic Committee, not the country itself, because of past doping violations that resulted in Russia being banned from competition.
“We are disappointed by the messages this [decision] sends,” said Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the USOPC, in a statement.
Similarly, Tygart, of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said on February 11 that it’s “absolutely inexcusable” that Valieva was allowed to compete at the Olympics in the first place. “[It’s] a catastrophic failure of the system that is so egregious, it almost seems intentional,” Tygart told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not saying that it is [intentional], because I don’t know that. But it never should’ve happened.”
This story was originally published by Teen Vogue.
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