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Inequity in Sports Is at an All-Time High: Just Look at Kamila Valieva

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Last summer, Sha’Carri Richardson won the 100-meter dash during the United States Olympic trials but was barred from competing at the Tokyo Olympics after she tested positive for THC. Richardson took THC after dealing with the loss of her mother a week before the trials. Though THC is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited substances list, it is not a performance-enhancing drug, and the agency has said that it will review its ban on the substance. Regardless, the news about Richardson’s positive drug test spread rapidly and although much support for her came out, she stated that her “name and talent was slaughtered to the people.

Just this week, Kamila Valieva was cleared to compete in women’s figure skating at the Olympics in Beijing despite testing positive for trimetazidine in December. Allegedly, even though she was tested during the Russian nationals, her results didn’t become public knowledge until last week, after the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) had already won a team gold medal in figure skating. Valieva, at age 15, is considered a “protected person” by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) due to her age. The CAS stated that not letting Valieva compete “would cause her irreparable harm in the circumstances.” 

The International Olympic Committee argues that “there is nothing in common between these two cases.” 

Richardson accepted her one-month ban, but had she appealed it and gotten a provisional ban, allowing her to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, she would have been stripped of any medals she won had the ban been upheld following the investigation. Valieva, however, was given an automatic provisional ban on February 8, but it was lifted by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency the next day. The International Olympic Committee, the International Skating Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency filed an appeal to reinstate the ban, but the CAS rejected the said appeal. Valieva placed fourth in the individual figure skating event, but the ROC team medal she helped win is pending investigation and no medal ceremony will be held until the investigation is over. 

First and foremost, I think Richardson should have been able to compete at the Tokyo Olympics as marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug. I also believe that the Olympics needs to be much more diligent about punishing those who do use performance-enhancing drugs. I don’t think Valieva should have been able to compete and it really just sets the precedent that Russian athletes are allowed to dope, but no one else is. The CAS is essentially endorsing her use of trimetazidine, but Richardson was punished for use of a substance that has essentially no bearing on her performance. 

I don’t think that Richardson and Valieva’s situations are completely analogous, but I think that there is much to be learned from how both athletes were treated. Valieva’s suspension should not have been lifted and Richardson’s shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. The rhetoric from the IOC in general about blaming the timing of the testing is avoiding the issue altogether as well. It’s a complete double standard in the sporting world and the Olympics are just perpetuating a culture of inequity and harmful regulations. 

Leila is from New York City and is a second-year Statistics major at UCLA. When she's not looking for article ideas for HC UCLA, she can be found at the beach with a book or finding fun places around LA!