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Why Figure Skater Kalina Valieva Will Continue Competing

Sports lawyer Bill Bock weighs in on the controversy at the Olympics

Super Lawyers online-exclusive

The 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing are in full swing, but one controversy has threatened to overshadow the competition. Early in the games, a Stockholm-based testing laboratory flagged a sample from 15-year-old figure skater Kalina Valieva of Russia—the odds-on favorite to win the women’s individual event—for trimetazidine, a banned substance often connected with doping.

On February 13, a panel of judges from the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Valieva would be allowed to continue to compete in the 2022 Olympics, citing “exceptional circumstances.”

Sports lawyer and arbitrator William Bock III of Kroger Gardis & Regas in Indianapolis knows more about the world of clean sport than most, having served as the general counsel of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for more than 10 years. Bock predicted that Valieva would be allowed to continue competing, and says it’s the right call.

“The mandatory provisional suspension that the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency were seeking to enforce against Kamila Valieva is really a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ provision,” Bock says. “That is directly opposite how any legal system should treat any person, let alone a 15-year-old.”

He adds: “The IOC and WADA sought to bar Ms. Valieva from competing without any hearing and before she could present any evidence in her defense. While she did have a positive drug test for a performance enhancing substance, it is also possible that under the rules she could have gotten only a public warning and no period eligibility due to her age. Therefore, banning her before a hearing would have been fundamentally unjust and inconsistent with the basic principles of the World Anti-Doping Code. It was not Ms. Valieva’s fault that her December 25 sample was not timely tested, that was the fault of the anti-doping authorities in her country and those at WADA and the IOC.”

Following CAS ruling, the IOC decided to postpone all medal ceremonies that Valieva might participate in—a decision that Bock calls fundamentally unfair to the U.S. and Japanese teams that finished behind the Russian Olympic Committee team in the previously-held team competition.

“It likewise threatens irreparable loss to any podium finishers in the women’s individual skating competition should Ms. Valieva finish in the top three,” he says. “In a misguided effort to draw attention away from the IOC’s own failures, the IOC is depriving these athletes of an important Olympic moment that can never be replicated.”

Bock continues: “Russia is currently serving sanctions for state sponsored doping and the massive failure of its anti-doping system. It was therefore important for WADA and the IOC to ensure that all pre-Olympic samples, and particularly those from Russia, were tested in advance of the Games. Having failed to adequately fulfill this responsibility, the IOC and WADA have only compounded the problem by penalizing innocent athletes, taking away once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to be on an Olympic podium.”

For more on Bill Bock’s work in the interest of clean sport, check out our story here.

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