In the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Sha’Carri Richardson, a sprinter for Team USA, was disqualified from participating in the competition after she failed a drug test and tested positive for marijuana. In the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Kamila Valieva, a Russian skater, similarly failed a drug test and tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication that can increase endurance. The only difference is that Valieva was allowed to compete, while Richardson was ripped away from being favored to win a medal. It’s important to address the racial inequality present during this season’s games.
In regards to Richardson, her mother had just passed away and the star track athlete was still expected to compete. She had been training and working hard towards the Olympics, and was assumed to win a medal for the U.S., but had just experienced a major loss. When news broke out about the failed drug test, Richardson was criticized in terms of accountability, even though she was grieving and had just undergone an immense amount of pressure to succeed in the summer games. However, the conversation did not go the same direction in regards to Valieva, a young white skater.
Sha’Carri Richardson’s racial identity as a woman of color predisposed her to a layer of discrimination Valieva did not have to face. She was subject to a narrative that painted her athleticism in a negative light, consequently putting a shadow over her career and degrading her reputation. Her pain was also scrutinized.
This article is not to say that Valieva did not deserve to compete, but Richardson should have gotten that same opportunity. It’s also important to acknowledge that news outlets and social media have called attention to how the Russian Olympic Committee treats teen athletes, and that Valieva experienced mistreatment and cold-hearted sentiments from her coach after the competition. It’s been speculated that she has faced this mistreatment during her training, which sheds a light on how female athletes generally are held to stricter standards. But Valieva’s racial privilege attracted more sympathy for her situation, which was not the same for Richardson.
On Twitter, Richardson called out the racist double standard. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) said different rules apply to minors, making Valieva a “protected person.” Valieva was protected by the IOC, but Richardson’s case shows that this decision was preferential. Richardson was excluded from the conversation altogether and deserved better.