There are times when you begin to wonder if Russia and the various organs of the Olympic movement are working together to amuse and confound the rest of the world.
What would be a better explanation for the elaborate, now totally pointless back-and-forth they have engaged in for eight years over doping? The Olympics scolds. Russia scoffs. The Olympics threatens. Russia dares them to try. The Olympics catches them in the act. Russia says, “How dare you?” And then a panel of arbitrators tells them to do it again.
The latest goon show involves now infamous Russian 10th grader, Kamila Valieva.
Here’s what we know for sure. Valieva, a figure skater of transportive talent, tested positive in December for a banned substance. The positive test was only revealed to all the involved parties on Feb. 8, one day after Valieva almost single-handedly won Russia the team figure skating gold.
After days of dithering, the matter has now been tossed over by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS. Dealing with the narrow issue of whether she may continue competing here, CAS ruled Monday in Valieva’s favour. She will skate on Tuesday in women’s solo and, in all likelihood, win another gold on Wednesday. Then I suppose we do this trial skit two more times. Maybe they can livestream it with a laugh track.
Here’s what we don’t know about the Valieva case – everything important.
How do you misplace the positive drug test of a breakout Olympic star six weeks before the Games? Didn’t it spark some office gossip down at Doping Central?
Did someone see the “positive” pop up next to “Valieva” and say, “Fascinating. Well, I’m off to the remotest part of the Galapagos Islands to test lizard urine for six months. I’ll just leave a Post-it on someone’s desk?”
There is also the small matter of whether the drug – a heart medication – has any measurable benefits as a performance enhancer. Why would a 15-year-old be on it? Why did it take a week to get this sorted?
More fundamentally, why do we continue to bother with this drug-testing charade when we know nothing ever comes of it?
According to the rules, they caught a drug user. She’s a minor, fine. I’m not sure how that makes it okay to disadvantage clean athletes who have the handicap of being 18 and up.
That is essentially what the CAS decided. Not that no wrong was done, but that the reporting process was flawed and that, as a “protected person,” Valieva deserves special consideration.
“The panel considered that preventing the athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances,” the decision read in part.
In other words, we don’t want anyone to call us names on the internet because we hurt a kid’s feelings.
Trying to be extra nice to children is a good rule generally, but I’m not sure how you encode it in common law.
If that is the red line – which is to say, there is no hard-and-fast red line – why test at all?
There are too many banned drugs, too many acceptable excuses, and too many people with too much to gain by cheating. Continuing with the current doping regime irritates everyone and reassures no one.
If you can’t beat ’em, no one’s suggesting you join ‘em. But when the other option is repeatedly embarrassing yourself, maybe ignoring ‘em isn’t the worst idea.
Some people will see the CAS’s decision and think: it’s not fair, but it’s right.
(Not Canada though. Our deep caring for children ends at the point where one of them costs us a makeup bronze in team figure skating. “We are extremely disappointed with the result,” the Canadian Olympic Committee and Skate Canada said jointly of the CAS ruling.)
A few others will see it and think: so what you’re telling me is I need to put more easily manipulated minors on my Olympic teams.
And then there are the Russians, who will see it and think: We weren’t sure they were this gullible, but they keep on surprising us.
Between their resources and their lack of shame, I didn’t think there was much the IOC could not accomplish. But even I didn’t believe it could find a way to turn Russia into the Olympic victim. It’s taken eight years, and the IOC has finally managed it. Even CAS feels bad for it.
The push-pull had become too numbing to go on forever – the IOC pretending to punish Russia; the Russians refusing to pretend to care.
At first, one sympathized with the IOC’s position. What was it going to do? Blow up the Olympics because one country wouldn’t play nice? That ruins it for everyone else, too.
But that dragged on too long. Russia should’ve been tossed two Olympics ago or let go.
Instead, the IOC embraced punitive neither-nor-ism – neither harsh nor effective.
Gradually, you started to drift over to Russia’s side, if not its point of view. Watching a bunch of athletes (because these are actual people you’re seeing, not an abstract country) get repeatedly put in the naughty corner got old. It began to feel like we were all on the side of the bullies.
But then, a potentially transformative moment. Russia is caught in a high-profile doping case at the beginning of an Olympics. The stakes and the evidence are easy to understand. Authorities suddenly have a brass-plated opportunity to dent Russia’s pose of innocence and send a message of zero tolerance to everyone else.
So the authorities let Russia off. Maybe they’ll get back to it later. We’ll see how it turns out.
If this is a serious effort at tackling illegal performance enhancement in athletics, it makes no sense.
It was already doping anarchy out there for the cheats. Now the authorities have lost any grip on their organizing principles. They’re just making this stuff up as they go along.
That’s if it’s all on the up-and-up. But if it’s comedy, it’s gold. I can’t wait to see what these lovable, dope-addled kooks get up to next. Tune in next Olympics when the whole family goes to Paris together and hijinks ensue.
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