In a stunning show of mistrust for the way that Russian officials are handling the doping case of Kamila Valieva, the figure skating star from the Beijing Games, the World Anti-Doping Agency has wrested the case from them and filed an appeal directly to the highest court in sports.
That court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is based in Switzerland, now has the case and will determine how, or if, Valieva should be punished for testing positive for a banned heart drug weeks before the 2022 Olympics.
After rocketing to the top of her sport in just a few months, Valieva, then 15, had come to Beijing as the clear favorite to win the individual gold medal in women’s singles. Amid the chaos of her positive test, she finished fourth, though she also led the Russians to gold in the team competition.
The Russian antidoping agency, called Rusada, had been dealing with Valieva’s doping case since February, but no decision had been made — and no information had been made public about the case’s progress — even though Olympic medals were at stake.
The team medals were never awarded and the awards ceremony was postponed indefinitely after Valieva’s failed test was made public. The United States finished second in the team event and Japan was third, but none of the athletes in the competition got the accompanying Olympic moment on the medals podium.
If the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided to strip Russia of its team gold medal, the United States would be awarded the gold.
Witold Banka, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, had warned the Russians on Twitter last week to finish Valieva’s case, to no avail. On Tuesday, he followed through with his threat to force the case to move along in the system.
“Despite putting RUSADA under formal notice to resolve the Kamila Valieva case promptly, no progress was made,” Banka said on Tuesday on Twitter.
Rusada said in recent weeks that it would not make public any information on the case, and that it would not even divulge when it would finish its phase of the matter, prompting outcry from the Olympic community. Considering Russia’s recent history with widespread doping, there is good reason for outsiders to be suspicious. In what was arguably the biggest scandal in Olympic history, Russia was caught having orchestrated a state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games.
In the first step of Valieva’s antidoping case, Rusada had been charged with investigating why she had tested positive before deciding if she was at fault and would serve a doping ban.
At the Beijing Olympics, an International Olympic Committee official told reporters that Valieva’s positive result might have come from contamination with heart medication that her grandfather was taking. It is unclear whether that defense is being used in the case now.
The rules for the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, say that it could have appealed any decision Rusada made (so, too, could the International Skating Union or Valieva herself). The decision on Tuesday to appeal to a higher court just hurried that process along, to the cheers of many in the antidoping movement.
Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said in a text message on Tuesday that WADA’s move was an indication that the public can’t trust the Russians to handle the case fairly.
“Finally, some progress,” he said.
Tygart added: “It’s a fairly straightforward case but at this rate, we can only hope the athletes waiting for their medals finally get their ceremony at the Paris Olympic Games, if they choose.”
WADA’s bold move does not mean that a conclusion in the case will come quickly. Cases that reach the Court of Arbitration for Sport can linger there for months before a ruling. But once a ruling is made, it is considered final.
Valieva, a minor who was already hailed as one of the most talented skaters in history, could face no ban and only receive a public warning, or she could be barred from the sport for several years.
One development might complicate any decision the Swiss court makes: A bill introduced in Russian parliament last week seeks to nullify any Court of Arbitration for Sport decisions regarding Russian athletes.
If the bill becomes a law, Russia would be deemed in violation of the World Anti-Doping Code, most likely making it ineligible for international competitions.