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.