U.S. Olympian Vincent Zhou has been moved to speak out against the handling of the Russian doping practices that led to a hearing regarding Kamila Valieva, who tested positive for a substance at her nationals – but we didn’t find out about it until after the Olympics. Almost two years has passed before the international bodies have dealt with it, and actually, they don’t seem to have dealt with it.
Vincent says it best. Here is his statement:
25 September 2023
It has been 595 days since my teammates and I earned medals at the Olympics. We still have not received them.
You may remember what happened. Representing Team USA, we placed second in the Figure Skating Team Event at the 2022 Winter Olympics. We were bested only by the Russian team, with Japan finishing third and Canada fourth. On the day that we were scheduled to receive our medals, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) cancelled the ceremony due to a “situation” that required a “legal consultation.” The IOC assured us that they would do their “utmost to make sure it [was] resolved as quickly as possible.”
The “situation’s” focal point was Russian skater Kamila Valieva’s positive drug test. Her urine sample, collected more than six weeks earlier but only just analyzed, contained the prohibited substance trimetazidine. The positive test would ordinarily have nullified Team Russia’s results immediately, and the awards ceremony could have proceeded as planned, with us, the Japanese team and the Canadian team receiving medals. However, the Russian Disciplinary Anti-Doping Commission (DADC), supported by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), decided that different anti-doping rules may apply to Valieva because she was only 15 years old at the time of the competition. So, for the first time in modern Olympic history, no medals were awarded.
While there are significant economic costs associated with not receiving an Olympic medal (sponsors love medals), the real harm has come from the way the “situation” has been handled by sport administrators.
In the 19 months since we took the ice in Beijing, my teammates and I have heard almost nothing from the officials handling the case, and we have no reason to believe that our interests are being adequately represented. This week, a hearing is scheduled at CAS that will pit the IOC, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) against Valieva and the Russian DADC. The idea that such a hearing will serve the interests of clean athletes is absurd – the Russian “Anti-Doping” Agency has been facilitating Russian doping for over a decade. The IOC, for its part, has repeatedly refused to hold Russia accountable for a state-sponsored doping program involving more than 1,000 athletes. WADA, which is controlled by the IOC through a governing agreement with public authorities, reinstated the Russian Anti-Doping Agency in 2018 despite the agency’s refusal to turn over data detailing the extent of Russian doping. And the “court” in next week’s hearing, CAS, which is an arm of the IOC (its president is the IOC vice-president), has repeatedly sided with Russia – first in overturning sanctions of Russian athletes and then in watering down subsequent sanctions on Russia and RUSADA. Who in this panoply of actors represents the interests of me and my teammates, and furthermore, the interests of the broader sporting community?
We asked to be allowed to observe the upcoming hearing. In response, we were told that CAS hearings are confidential – closed even to those of us directly affected by the proceedings. We were told that either of the involved parties could request a public hearing, but that neither did. For that reason, the proceedings will happen behind closed doors.
An open and transparent hearing would go a long way towards helping athletes understand any decision that is rendered. Transparency would build confidence in a global anti-doping system that has lost the trust of its most important stakeholders: athletes. In contrast, asking the parties themselves to decide whether the hearing will be public is akin to asking them whether their actions should be scrutinized by outsiders. Unsurprisingly, they chose to act with impunity and to avoid public accountability.
The situation we found ourselves in at the Beijing Games and the painful process that we have endured since are a direct result of decisions made by the IOC, WADA, and CAS. The global sport administrators allowed Russian athletes to compete in the past four Olympics, including Beijing, despite the country’s state-sponsored doping program. The program is widely known to have corrupted multiple Olympic Games and defrauded thousands of athletes. Also, the Russian government has obstructed the pursuit of justice by manipulating data, destroying laboratories, and going so far as to murder whistleblowers in order to undermine investigations. And yet, the Russian team has not been excluded from a single Olympic Games.
Valieva’s positive drug test is not an isolated incident. My teammates and I are aware of widespread doping by other Russian skaters – and this, unfortunately, should surprise no one, given that a non-compliant anti-doping organization is still tasked with ensuring the integrity of sport inside Russia. Valieva and her teammates would never have been placed in this position if the IOC, WADA, and CAS had done their jobs and banned Russia from global sport. But, because of the inaction of sport administrators, Russia has never been incentivized to reform. Athletes both inside and outside of Russia have borne the cost.
As my team’s empty medal boxes show, the global anti-doping system is failing athletes. The revered elitism of the Olympics is dependent upon the principles of clean sport and fair competition. Yet, the governing bodies that are tasked to observe and enforce these principles continuously act against their supposed missions and fail to act on behalf of the people for whom they exist to serve: the athletes. Whenever finally held, the awards ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Figure Skating Team Event will be a symbol of the gross failures of the IOC, CAS, RUSADA, and other global sporting administrators. Justice delayed is justice denied, and my teammates and I will never get back the chance to stand before the world to celebrate a lifetime’s worth of hard work culminating in a career-defining achievement. We have been forever prevented from experiencing the moment that every athlete dreams of – and ultimately, the organizations assumed to protect and create such moments are instead responsible for the emptiness of our success.