The Russian figure skating star at the center of doping issues at the Beijing Olympics will be allowed to compete in the women’s singles event after a decision by referees on Monday.
The panel, in a statement, said it would be unfair and cause ‘irreparable harm’ if she were excluded from the competition, despite testing positive for a banned substance in December. The revelation came last week, a day after she helped Russia win a gold medal in the team event.
The skater, Kamila Valieva, 15, has become a face of the Games and is widely seen as the favorite to win the women’s event which begins on Tuesday. Monday’s decision means she will be able to take to the ice at the start of the short program, although questions will surely hang over her performance and the Russian team.
In reaching the decision, according to the panel’s statement, it “considered fundamental principles of fairness, proportionality, irreparable harm and balance of interests” between Valieva and the organizations seeking to exclude her from the Games. Also, he noted, Valieva did not test positive at the Beijing Games but could face possible sanctions when her case is reviewed after the Olympics.
The case was heard by a panel appointed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, considered the highest judicial authority in world sport. Matthieu Reeb, the tribunal’s chief executive, announced the decision at a press conference on Monday, less than 30 hours before the start of the women’s event, but walked away without answering any questions.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee quickly issued a statement expressing its disappointment with the decision. Sarah Hirshland, the committee’s chief executive, said clean athletes are being denied “the right to know they are competing on a level playing field”.
“We are disappointed with the messages this sends,” said Sarah Hirshland, the committee’s chief executive. said in a statement, adding, “This appears to be another chapter in Russia’s systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport.”
Monday’s panel, however, did not decide whether Valieva was guilty of knowingly consuming a prohibited drug. He only ruled it was at the discretion of Russia’s anti-doping agency to lift a brief suspension it imposed on her last week after learning she tested positive weeks ago for a banned drug. . This disclosure came the day after the team event.
In the decision, the arbitrators rejected appeals from the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the world governing body for skating to reinstate a provisional suspension that would have excluded Valieva from the Olympics.
The court did not consider whether Valieva was at fault for testing positive for trimetazidine, a heart drug that may increase endurance. His positive result comes from a urine sample taken from him at the Russian national championships on December 25 but not confirmed for about six weeks. The panel that met Saturday and Sunday in Beijing upheld the Russian anti-doping agency’s decision to suspend Valieva for a single day last week before promptly reinstating her.
Russia’s anti-doping agency said it was only told by a Stockholm lab of Valieva’s failed doping test on February 7, the same day she led the Russians to a gold medal in the the team event. Medals for this competition were not awarded.
The International Olympic Committee, World Anti-Doping Agency and International Skating Union had filed an appeal with the court last week, seeking to reinstate the suspension, which most likely would have prevented Valieva from competing in Beijing.
“It’s a very complicated and controversial situation,” his coach, Eteri Tutberidze, told Russian state broadcaster Channel One on Saturday in his first public comments on the case. “There are many questions and very few answers.”
Despite these unknowns, Tutberidze was quick to add, “I wanted to say that we are absolutely confident that Kamila is innocent and clean.”
The legal battle over Valieva’s future eligibility is expected to last at least weeks. The fate of the Olympic gold medal in the team event also hangs in the balance.
During last week’s free program in the team competition, Valieva became the first woman to land a quadruple jump. His performance led the Russians to win the team event, their best performance to date. The United States won the silver medal and Japan the bronze.