WADA back in the spotlight with Russian Valieva’s doping case

Russian figure skating gold medallist Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance but the result took weeks to be reported.

Kamila Valieva trains at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, China, on Friday.   -  REUTERS

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Friday was thrust into the spotlight at the Beijing Olympics after Russian figure skating gold medallist Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance but the result took weeks to be reported.

The 15-year-old sensation, who dazzled with her quadruple jumps to help the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win gold in the team event on Monday, was tested by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) on December 25 at the national championships.

Her positive result, however, was reported from a WADA-accredited laboratory in Stockholm, Sweden, only on Tuesday, according to the International Testing Agency (ITA), the day after Valieva won the Olympic gold medal with her team.

The lab has been contacted by Reuters for comment.

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The weeks-long delay for the sample result to be reported is highly unusual given Russian athletes are competing in their third consecutive Olympics as ROC athletes, without their flag or anthem for state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Russia has acknowledged some shortcomings in its implementation of anti-doping rules but denies running a state-sponsored doping programme. It is also the most tested team ahead of the Games with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) eager to avoid any doping scandals that tarnished previous Games.

David Howman, the former long-time Director General of WADA, told Reuters the timeline of events in this case made no sense.

“If the sample was taken... before the Games, why didn’t RUSADA push the Swedish lab to get the results?” he said.

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“The other responsibility is with WADA. They knew what samples would have been taken and needed to be analysed,” he said.

“And thirdly, the International Skating Union (ISU) would have known the samples that would have been collected. All three parties would have had access to the ADAMs (Anti-Doping Administration & Management System) systems, which tells you where and when samples were collected. Those are the questions that now need answering.”

IOC, ISU to appeal verdict

Valieva was provisionally banned by RUSADA on the day of her positive result on February 8 but her suspension was lifted on February 9 after a hearing with the Russian agency. Both the IOC and the International Skating Union will now appeal that decision, they have said.

WADA is no stranger to controversy, having played a key role in the Russian doping scandal, with the agency under fierce criticism for what was seen as a lack of oversight for RUSADA and WADA’s failure to keep Russia in check. “The worst case of system failure in my time as president of WADA or in the entire time of the anti-doping movement is Russia,” then WADA president Craig Reedie said in 2019.

“What it (scandal) taught us when it erupted was that we were not equipped to deal with such a large-scale programme.”

WADA did eventually sanction Russia in December 2019 and barred the team from flying its flag at major sporting events for a four-year period. That, however, was halved by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with the sanctions set to end on December 16. WADA, which had also reinstated RUSADA in 2018 after a three-year suspension, refused to comment on the case.

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