US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson is calling out Olympic anti-doping officials after allowing Kamila Valieva to compete in the Winter Olympics despite testing positive for a banned substance. The 21-year-old athlete suggested racist double standards from the International Olympic Committee, which had suspended her from the 2021 Olympics for a positive marijuana test.
Richardson’s suspension initiated an international debate about the global sports policy barring Olympians from using cannabis. The conversation led several stakeholders from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to request a review of the organization’s policy on marijuana use among athletes.
Kamila Valieva was in the spotlight last December after testing positive for trimetazidine. The substance is a drug that patients in some jurisdictions use to treat chest pain caused by a lack of oxygen and blood supply to the heart. People also use it to enhance their performance when exercising or performing heavy tasks by improving cardiac performance.
However, officials did not uncover the violation until after Valieva took first place in the first round of individual competitions. Although the International Testing Agency took the young skater’s sample on December 25, it didn’t report its results until February 8.
The discovery triggered her immediate suspension from the competition, causing officials to delay the award ceremony for the figure skating contest. Even so, Valieva successfully appealed the decision, which allowed her to continue participating in the competition. She finished the tournament at the top of the standings and helped her team get the gold medal.
Richardson is now questioning why she faced dire consequences when Valieva could compete despite testing positive for a banned substance. The sprinter went on social media to express her dissatisfaction about the decision and demanded an answer on how her case deserved a different approach.
The sprinter also explained the circumstances that led her to partake of cannabis, citing her mother’s death as the reason for her marijuana use. Research has proven that the plant has numerous health benefits, such as reducing opioid dependency and reducing the symptom of anxiety and depression. Still, since authorities have listed it as a banned substance, Richardson could not be helped from the situation.
While the two cases may be similar in some ways, they are also different in many ways. Although weed and trimetazidine are illegal substances as per the Olympic committee, only the latter can enhance performance.
Richardson was guilty of using marijuana, which is not scientifically proven to enhance physical ability. However, Valieva consumed trimetazidine which is known to improve cardiac performance. Richardson was sure to point this out when seeking justice from the Olympic authorities.
Furthermore, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was the one that decided to suspend Richardson. While the USADA operates in compliance with international athletics rules, it maintains that it could not intervene in the young sprinter’s case.
On the other hand, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) temporarily suspended Valieva after authorities revealed her doping test results. Even so, RUSADA later lifted the temporary suspension after Valieva appealed the decision.
The decision to lift Valieva’s suspension caused quite a stir in the athletics community as WADA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Skating Union (ISU) challenged it.
However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) released a statement on Friday rejecting the challenges, thus permitting Valieva to continue competing. CAS, an international body that resolves various Olympic disputes, claimed that the reason behind the decision was that the 15-year-old skater is a minor. For this reason, Valieva is a protected person, subject to a different standard under the WADA code.
Richard Pound, the former WADA president, denounced the allegations of racial bias in the Olympics. The former Canadian swimming champion explained that the ages of Valieva and Richardson were significant factors why authorities handled their cases differently. Being a protected person under WADA regulations, it was hard to impose severe repercussions for Valieva’s case.
Even so, Pound also expressed his discontentment on the extreme penalty for Richardson’s positive cannabis test. He commented that regulators should have approached the situation with more empathy and warned the sprinter about the consequences of her actions.
Minorities, especially black Americans, have historically had more discriminatory standards on issues to do with drugs. For this reason, many industry leaders believe that employing a welcoming approach can help reduce this racial bias. For instance, research shows that the legalization of cannabis can help reduce race-based arrests since most law enforcement agencies associate minority ethnicities with the use of the substance.
As countries decriminalize cannabis, more athletes have become comfortable smoking marijuana. If the trend continues, sports governing bodies may have to change their policies regarding athletes who occasionally hit the bong and even review the ban on the substance.