The Ethical Dilemma of Allowing Kamila Valieva to Compete

After testing positive for a banned substance, it has been decided that Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva will be allowed to compete for the remainder of the 2022 Olympics. It is the latest chapter in a highly unusual doping case where there is no easy answer as to how this case should be resolved.

Kamila Valieva is only 15 years old and virtually everyone agrees that in a situation where a child athlete is doped, it is the adults who are to blame. But nevertheless, this still creates an ethical dilemma as there are two statements that most are in agreement with.

A) No athlete should be forced to compete against and/or lose a medal to an athlete who is currently in violation of anti-doping requirements.

B) If the athlete in question is only 15 years old, she is too young to be considered at fault and any penalties should be inflicted on her support staff and not the child in question.

Most readers would agree with these statements and that they are both the right perspective to have. But both of these statements directly contradict with each other and only one can practically be implemented. Sooner or later one of these two philosophies had to be broken and it was decided to reenter an athlete into the Olympics with a tainted doping record, allowing her to continue competing against athletes who tested clean.

The decision is highly unpopular, even within the figure skating community where fans have long adored Valieva and wanted to see her succeed. While fans are disgusted at the prospect of an athlete with an outstanding doping violation competing against athletes who have passed the drug testing standards, there is more injustice to be found.

The single most alarming byproduct of the Kamila Valieva case is it creates a precedent where child athletes are virtually immune to anti-doping controls. Creating a situation where the youngest and most vulnerable athletes in sports can be doped with impunity by their coaches. That alone would constitute a human tragedy if such tactics become widespread as a result of this case.

But there is also a more immediate dilemma for the athletes who will be competing against Valieva during the 2022 Olympics. While it is not uncommon for Olympic medals to be stripped and redistributed, it is highly unusual for a concern to be raised regarding vacated medals prior to the start time of the competition in question.

If Kamila Valieva presses ahead and competes in 2022 women’s singles, it would be one of the most absurd competitions in Olympic history where athletes will be competing for a medal knowing the gold-medal favorite may later be ruled ineligible. How is an athlete supposed to compete under these circumstances and not let that impact her performance? How does an athlete decide how much risk to take in a competition where it is unclear exactly who they have to beat in order to win?

Imagine being the 4th place finisher in this scenario? That means a figure skater would have to watch a medal ceremony from the stands knowing full well that there’s a possibility she’s will later be ruled as the rightful bronze medalist and is about to be unfairly denied her right to partake in an Olympic medal ceremony. Denying her the ability to experience what is often the single most important moment in the career of an Olympian.

But Valieva’s presence has forced event organizers to cancel any medal ceremony she is expected to participate in until this case is resolved. This means as many as 25 Olympians will possibly go home without a medal that rightfully belongs to them. Creating the possibility that these athletes will only be honored in what amounts to a makeup ceremony that doesn’t have the same aura as a “true” Olympic medal ceremony.

It is not my intent to argue that the decision to let Valieva compete was incorrect. The skaters competing against Valieva have concerns/needs that must be considered. But so do the concerns/needs of Kamila Valieva herself. This is a child who has tested positive for a banned substance. The doping of a child is without question a form of child abuse and to penalize Kamila is akin to penalizing a child for her own abuse.

It’s a sickening thought to have and the age of the athlete in question is what makes this case so heartbreaking. The doping of a 15 year old is tragic and upon the discovering of such a revelation, it creates an ethical dilemma of what to do next when there is no solution that is fair to all parties involved.

4 thoughts on “The Ethical Dilemma of Allowing Kamila Valieva to Compete

  1. This is women’s figure skating. If a 15-year-old wants to compete as a senior woman, then she should be treated as a senior woman and held to the same standards as all the other competitors. Otherwise, she can compete as a junior. These teenagers are allowed to compete against adults even though they have an unfair advantage due to the fact that their bodies haven’t finished developing, which makes it easier for them to do difficult jumps like quads. Yet then when they’re asked to take the same responsibilities as the other ladies, they’re called “children” and thus can’t be disqualified? This is a double standard and completely unfair to everyone BUT Kamila Valieva. Why the special treatment for her?

    Why also the assumption that Valieva knew nothing about the doping and didn’t agree to it? We hold minors responsible all the time for things like drunk driving and plagiarism. Yes, the adults involved should be held responsible too, but that doesn’t mean Valieva herself had no part in cheating. She’s 15, not five. That’s old enough to understand right from wrong. An investigation into what she knew and didn’t know is needed. If she truly had no idea what her coach or someone else was giving her, then yes, I feel sorry for her, but life is messy, and we can’t always stop minors from getting entangled in adults’ poor decisions. Andreea Raducan was stripped of her gold medal for what was probably an honest mistake (taking OTC medication for a cold), but the trimetazidine Valieva was taking was no mistake.

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    1. I don’t disagree with your basic point but I will add that just refusing isn’t as straightforward for someone in her situation, particularly in a state run program in a country like Russia (and especially as a teenager). I don’t think no is a realistic option for her, not if she wants to continue skating.

      That said, I do agree that as she’s competing with the adults as a senior, she needs to be treated as such. Regardless of whether the onus is on her or not, the result is the same, and it’s not fair to all the other competitors to allow her to continue in the competition. It’s beyond absurd to have all medal competitions canceled because she’s participating- even more of a slap in the face to the others.

      Yet another case of Russia being allowed to do whatever with no real consequences.

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  2. I agree 100% that she should hold responsible, because she was in a competition as a senior even if she was 15 years old. And it’s unfair por the other skaters to be penalize for something they didn’t do. I also think that her coach should be banished as a coah from any internacional competition!!

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  3. I agree 100% that she should be hold responsible, because she was in a competition as a senior even if she was 15 years old. And it’s unfair por the other skaters to be penalize for something they didn’t do. I also think that her coach should be banished as a coah from any internacional competition!!

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