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Kamila Valieva Olympic doping case up for appeal

September 26, 2023

More than a year after a positive doping test emerged at the Beijing Winter Olympics, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is hearing an appeal. No medals have yet been awarded for the team figure skating event.

Kamila Valieva skating in Beijing
Kamila Valieva had tested positive for a banned subtance weeks prior to the Beijing Winter OlympicsImage: Peter Kneffel/dpa/picture alliance

What exactly is the CAS to rule on?

The case concerns allegations of doping against Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva. Russia's anti-doping agency RUSADA ruled in January 2023 that Valieva would not be banned from the sport despite a positive doping test in late 2021. RUSADA said it had found that Valieva bore "no fault or negligence". 

Despite this finding, it did retroactively disqualify her from the 2022 Russian championships. As a result, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced in February 2023 that it would apply to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for a four-year ban, as well as the nullification of all Valieva's results from the date of the positive test forward (December 25, 2021).

How did the case unfold at the 2022 Olympics?

It was on February 8, 2022, a day after Russia, including Valieva, won gold in the team competition at the Beijing Games, that her positive test result was made public. The blood sample taken from the then-15-year-old six weeks earlier was found to contain the banned substance trimetazidine. The drug can increase blood flow and thus endurance. RUSADA initially suspended Valieva but lifted the mandatory suspension the following day on appeal.

This was opposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), WADA and the International Skating Union (ISU). In summary proceedings, CAS ruled at the time that Valieva would not be banned because the trimetazidine concentration in the sample was low and accidental contamination could not be ruled out. In the case of a 15-year-old, a "special need for protection" also applied. Valieva was therefore also allowed to compete in the individual competition, in which she finished fourth.

How has the Russian side explained Valieva's positive test?

The Russians claimed that Valieva's positive test was due to contamination. They argued that she had ingested traces of her grandfather's heart medication, which contained trimetazidine, through shared cutlery. They also accused the Stockholm laboratory, where the A sample was tested, of technical errors.

What have been the consequences of the doping case?

No medals have yet been awarded for the team competition at the Beijing Games. If WADA wins its appeal, Russia stands to be stripped of the victory. If this happens, the United States would be awarded the gold medal, silver would go to Japan and bronze to Canada.

US figure skaters gathered at the Beijing 2022 Olympics
The United States could still be awarded the gold medal in the team figure skating eventImage: Valery Sharifulin/dpa/picture alliance

The Valieva case has already resulted in a rule change. The ISU decided in June 2022 to raise the minimum age for all disciplines (figure skating, speed skating, short track) from 15 to 17 years in order to "protect the physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing of skaters." In 2023-24, the minimum age is to be raised to 16 – then to 17 for the Olympic season, 2025-26.

Why is the CAS facing criticism over the case?

Something that has been widely criticized is the fact that the CAS is hearing the case behind closed doors. Rob Koehler, director general of the athletes' association Global Athlete, told German public broadcaster ARD that had the CAS decided to make the hearings public, it would have ensured that there could be "no backroom deals."

Because the CAS has ruled in Russia's favor several times in the past, some fear that the fact that the hearings are being held in private could increase the chance of Valieva avoiding a ban.

In Russia, on the other hand, there are fears that Valieva could be made a scapegoat. Either way, the CAS decision will likely be both final and binding. 

This article was adapted from German.