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The Ethics of International Anti-Doping Agencies and the Case of Kamila Valieva

Credit: Министерство спорта Республики Татарстан | Wikimedia Commons

Kamila Valieva, the Russian figure skating phenomenon, was thrust into the spotlight when it was revealed that she tested positive for Trimetazidine (TMZ), the banned substance, during the Russian National Championships in late 2021. She was fifteen years old at the time. Following an appeal of a Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) ruling, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) disqualified Valieva from the 2022 Winter Beijing Olympics in January 2024, stripping Valieva of three medals (including one gold and two silver). The Russian Olympic Body is set to appeal on the grounds that the decision for Valieva’s punishment was politically motivated, though its credibility from the perspective of the International Olympic Committee is currently on thin ice. 

It is difficult to demarcate national interests from individual achievements, but it is imperative to do so. The CAS not only has that difficult responsibility, but it also has the responsibility to preserve the integrity of sport by punishing and preventing athletes from taking drugs to secure unfair competitive advantages.

Established in 1984, the CAS operates as an independent judicial body tasked with resolving disputes and adjudicating anti-doping cases in the

Credit: Football Legal

realm of international sports. Its mandate extends across a wide spectrum of matters, encompassing doping violations, athlete eligibility disputes, and disciplinary actions. CAS's jurisdiction is not bound by the interests of any single sports organization, resulting in a neutral resolution of conflicts and the preservation of procedural fairness. Within this framework, Valieva’s case has highlighted the intricacies and challenges inherent in anti-doping regulations.

Valieva and her legal team asserted that she unwittingly ingested TMZ through medication given to her by her grandfather. TMZ is a medication used in some countries to alleviate chest pain, but banned in others, including the United States, due to its performance-enhancing properties. 

A notable comparison arises with Chinese freestyle swimmer Sun Yang, who faced a similar case regarding the use of TMZ. Unlike Valieva however, Yang's medals remained intact despite being banned by the CAS, leading to questions about consistency in enforcement and punishment within the realm of international sports governance. Importantly, Yang's infraction occurred four months after TMZ was categorized as a stimulant by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The principle of strict liability, which holds athletes responsible for any presence of banned substances in their bodies regardless of intent or fault, is one example of an area of the WADA Code where nuance is absent. This principle can lead to unfair decisions, especially cases like Valieva where an athlete unknowingly consumes prohibited substances through contaminated supplements or medications. Healthier and stronger cooperation between national governments and WADA could alleviate this issue.

Moreover, decisions made by the CAS may be susceptible to political pressures or favoritism, particularly when dealing with athletes representing powerful nations. There are valid questions about the consistency and fairness of enforcement and punishment within the realm of international sports governance. There are also concerns about the composition of the CAS board, noting the ubiquity of members from culturally Western countries. The disparity in treatment between athletes like Kamila Valieva and Sun Yang highlights the need for greater transparency and accountability within the CAS to ensure equitable treatment for all athletes regardless of their nationality or stature. The CAS has been under fire by the international sports law community for years now, but hopefully, potential reform will eventually be implemented in the form of selecting arbitrators that do not have clear national interests

Domestically the Supreme Court, the court of the highest order in the nation, is being questioned ethically. International sporting regulations, agencies, and courts should likewise be questioned.

Despite the controversies surrounding individual athletes and regulatory bodies, it is essential to reaffirm the fundamental importance of integrity in athletics. Upholding principles of fair play, transparency, and accountability is vital for maintaining the credibility and spirit of sportsmanship at all levels of competition. 

Ultimately, sports should serve as a unifying force despite differences, rather than an institution that can be exploited to advance political objectives. Sporting regulators such as the CAS valiantly attempt to preserve the integrity of sport, but they should also prioritize affording protections for athletes from a rigid application of statutes. 

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.


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