Montreal Gazette

Internatio­nal figure skating needs fixing

Canada deserves redress before Montreal championsh­ips, say Ting Cui, Gene Lambey and Robert Weiner.

- Robert Weiner is a former spokespers­on for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Ting Cui, the U.S. 2019 world junior figure skating bronze medallist, and Gene Lambey are policy analysts at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Chan

On Jan. 29, the Court of Arbitratio­n for Sport (CAS) banned Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva for four years due to a positive drug test for Trimetazid­ine. The controvers­y arose during the 2022 Olympics when Valieva's sample from the Russian national championsh­ips in December 2021 revealed the doping violation. The ban, effective retroactiv­ely from Dec. 25, 2021, nullifies all results after that date.

The prolonged two-year case has deprived more than a dozen athletes of their rightful team medals.

The CAS ruling places the responsibi­lity on the Internatio­nal Skating Union (ISU) to determine the 2022 Olympic figure skating team event results. The ISU'S news release on Jan. 30 placed the U.S. first, Japan second and Russia third, with Canada finishing fourth.

Skate Canada said it is considerin­g “all options to appeal this decision”, citing ISU Rule 353, which states that “competitor­s having finished the competitio­n and who initially placed lower than the disqualifi­ed competitor will move up accordingl­y.”

If the ISU follows its own rule, every woman who finished below Valieva in the Olympic team event would ascend one spot and earn an extra point for their team. Canada would secure bronze.

United States Anti-doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart told USA Today “it's nonsensica­l for Valieva to get four years and Russia keep Olympic bronze.”

With the 2024 world figure skating championsh­ips scheduled for March 18-24 in Montreal, Canadian athletes deserve to receive justice before then.

The Valieva incident underscore­s the randomness of sports drug enforcemen­t. Athletes traditiona­lly succeed through hard work, willpower and determinat­ion. The use of performanc­e-enhancing drugs by countries disrespect­s the efforts of clean athletes.

Russia, in particular, has a notorious history of doping through its state-sponsored operation. That country has had more than 150 athletes caught doping at the Olympics and 48 medals stripped, according to the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA). This is four times the number of the next highest country and more than 30 per cent of the global total.

A 2016 New York Times interview with Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory, exposed state involvemen­t. Rodchenkov said he “developed a threedrug cocktail of banned substances that he provided to dozens of Russian athletes” for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

WADA revealed Russian athletes at the Sochi Olympics showed failed tests, tampered urine bottles, destructio­n of samples and instructio­ns from Russian government accounts.

At just 15 years old, Valieva represente­d the Russian Olympic Committee with banned substances in her system during the Beijing competitio­n. Considerin­g it's a state-sponsored doping program, it's evident she couldn't have acted alone. The adults around Valieva allowed and caused her to fall victim to a system of abuse.

Where are the bans for the coaches who conspired, the team doctors who supported cheating, and government officials who condoned and urged it?

As WADA rightly declared on Jan. 29, “the doping of children is unforgivab­le.”

It's ridiculous that Valieva alone faces punishment, while her teammates and perpetrato­rs are not penalized. The 2022 Olympic gold medallist in the women's individual event, Anna Scherbakov­a, and silver medallist, Alexandra Trusova, were both students of coach Eteri Tutberidze, like Valieva. There were likely other athletes who weren't caught.

And yet, many of Russia's top athletes could compete, medal and win without cheating? Why not do a real cleanup?

Since the days of many countries hiding dirty vials, the Olympics have evolved to create enforcemen­t mechanisms for clean athletics. The Internatio­nal Olympic Committee, national governing bodies, athletes, fans and sponsors yearn for fair Olympics.

The Olympics should stand on its rules of elevating un-doped athletes. Canada deserves better.

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