Sha’Carri Richardson vs. Kamila Valieva: the discrepancies between their Olympic scandals

ShaCarri Richardson (left) and Kamila Valieva (right) both performing their Olympic sports.

Just Jared

Sha’Carri Richardson (left) and Kamila Valieva (right) both performing their Olympic sports.

The Olympics have been a prevalent event throughout history, testing the limits of human physical capabilities. Along with the unfathomable showcasing of sports and numerous countries’ athletes, the competition, of course, has its rules. In modern times, one of the most prominent rules is the prohibition of performance enhancement drugs, more commonly known as “doping.”

The Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games have faced yet another major doping scandal regarding the fifteen-year-old Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva. Being the undisputed frontrunner, Valieva was on track to win gold for her team, the Russian Olympic Committee. Amid the games, her test results came back positive for doping, though she was initially tested on Dec. 25, 2021.

In past years, Olympic Russian coaches have been caught manipulating the competition by forcing their athletes to take performance-enhancing substances. Back in 2019, Russia was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) from competing in the Olympics and international sports competitions as a result of their expansive background of doping schemes. 

Russia now competes under the name Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and is not allowed to show any symbols or flags for the representation of their country. With this ban in place, Russian athletes are to remain as “neutral athletes” while competing. 

Unfortunately, this ban has not proven to be fully effective. The ROC Figure Skating Coach, Eteri Tutberidze, is notorious for treating her athletes in inhumane ways and for pushing them far past their physical limits. Since Valieva is only fifteen years old, she cannot take responsibility for doping—but Tutberidze can. In fact, Tutberidze has faced controversy in the past regarding her coaching methods and has been affiliated with officials involved in doping schemes. 

But no matter who’s to blame for Valieva’s doping, the question is why was she still able to compete even after she tested positive?

Last summer, during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, U.S. sprinter, Sha’Carri Richardson, was suspended for one month due to testing positive for THC in her system—this ultimately took her out of competing and any shot of winning an anticipated medal.

After learning about the death of her mother, Richardson used marijuana to cope with her grief. It is questionable as to why Richardson chose to use marijuana during the games knowing that it could result in punishment, but the controversy comes in the fact that THC is not a performance enhancer by any means—in reality, it can dull performance.

On the other hand, Valieva had trimetazidine—a heart and chest pain medication—in her system that was banned by WADA. Trimetazidine is a known performance enhancer, yet Valieva still competed nonetheless. 

In the end, the facts need to be taken into account for what they are, and whatever situation might arise needs to be assessed from a consistent perspective.

As a follow up to the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s panel decision on Valieva’s participation, The New York Times wrote, “In its report, the court panel said it had decided that Valieva could continue skating at the Olympics because she was not to blame for the delay in providing a conclusive result by the Stockholm laboratory that analyzed her sample. That result came after Valieva had already skated in Beijing. The court’s lawyers also said that because Valieva is a minor, they had considered the likelihood that she might eventually face only a reprimand, rather than a suspension if she was found guilty of a doping violation,” (Tariq Panja, 2022).

Because it was ruled out that Valieva is a minor and legally cannot take responsibility, she was ultimately allowed to compete. It makes sense that Valieva cannot take responsibility for doping for two reasons: she is far too young to know what to take, and she most likely was not the one to introduce the idea of doping—that would be a high possibility of her coach, Tutberidze, the one with the questionable past.

But with all circumstances aside, Valieva was on a legitimate performance-enhancing drug while Richardson was only on THC, the antithesis of a performance enhancer. 

Richardson took full responsibility for her actions regarding using substances of abuse in the Olympics, but with the Valieva doping scandal buzzing in the media, she has started to point out the discrepancies between the two cases.

Richardson wrote in a tweet, “Failed in December and the world just now know however my results was posted within a week and my name & talent was slaughtered to the people,” and later stated that, “It’s all in the skin.” 

This points to a bigger question: is racism driving this disparity?

If this is the case, there is evidence to back it up. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a past of racist tendencies, so the expulsion of Richardson from the games and not Valieva could be another factor in this issue.

A 2021 American Civil Liberties Union article wrote, Shortly after the swimming cap ban, two Namibian runners were disqualified from the Olympics for their natural testosterone levels—reinforcing the harsh reality that the policing of who counts as a “woman” has always been deeply racialized. And when hammer thrower Gwen Berry practiced her right to peacefully protest racial injustice at the track and field trials, some lawmakers called for her to be removed from the Olympic team altogether.”

Though the situations are different, the IOC has shown systemic discrimination towards its Black athletes. Looking at how Richardson—a Black woman—was barred from the Olympics while  Valieva—a white counterpart—was involved in an offense of a similar notion and faced lesser repercussions only bolsters the argument.

“Richardson’s excellence challenges notions of white supremacy—making her success a threat to the very Olympic team that she qualified to be on. In fact, the legacy of chattel slavery in the United States burdens Black women because of their race and their gender. From generational wealth inequality—caused in large part because they carry the biggest burden of the student loan debt crisis—to the increased violence against Black women, nearly every system in America has failed Black women. The International Olympic Committee shouldn’t be one of them,” (ACLU, 2021).

But this is a complex situation; not just one answer to this ongoing scandal is definitive. Some aspects of this situation could simply come down to team policies. Team USA might consider the use of marijuana among athletes to be an exclusionary offense no matter the athlete; the IOC might be in the right for letting Valieva continue to compete solely because of her young age. 

No matter how one chooses to view it, this scandal urges people to think deeply about the discrepancies in decisions of the IOC when it comes to arbitrary—at best—decision making. In the end, the facts need to be taken into account for what they are, and whatever situation might arise needs to be assessed from a consistent perspective. It all comes down to building an even playing field for athletes of all races and nationalities.