Valieva case overshadows sport as Beijing Winter Olympics ends

Hundreds of medals were won at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but the athlete who will be remembered as the face of the Games is a figure skater who finished fourth.

Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva, who was informed she tested positive for a banned substance two days after her Russian Olympic Committee finished first in team figure skating, broke down in tears on Tuesday The year after a disastrous performance destroyed her hopes of winning a medal individually. incident.

The fact that she even iced on Thursday prompted criticism from the International Olympic Committee for its handling of doping scandal since the Russian state-sponsored program at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

It is just one of many controversies and challenges facing the IOC in Beijing 2022, from the threat from the coronavirus to a range of simmering political tensions including a Western diplomatic boycott of the country. China’s human rights violations.

Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, said at the closing press conference: “The intensity of this Olympic experience was higher and far beyond what I experienced at the Olympic Games.

He cited moments of close friendship between the athletes before finally spending nearly an hour discussing the “unsettling” final scenes in Valieva’s skating, and Reception “chilled” she received from her coach after crumpled under pressure.

The Valieva case demonstrated the difficulty the IOC faced in fixing problems quickly at its own event. Since the positive sample was submitted during a domestic competition in December, the case was handled by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada), which granted her the ability to compete while on appeal.

When asked if the Olympics were ultimately damaged by Valieva’s participation in Beijing, Bach pointed out that the IOC had appealed the Rusada decision afterwards. “We didn’t want her in and we lost the contest. We have to respect the rule of law,” he said.

Competitors said it was difficult to escape the turmoil that engulfed the women’s figure skating event. American figure skater Karen Chen, who broke through her routine on Thursday to finish 16th, said: “I was pretty tired of everything skating and unrelated. regarding ice skating.”

Anger over Valieva distracts from tensions around China that have been central to the run of the Olympics and during initial press conferences – although these issues are never far-fetched.

They range from the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, which led to the boycott of Western diplomacy, to the happiness of Peng Shuai, the tennis player who made and then The charges have been withdrawn sexual assault of a top Chinese official last year.

Chinese athletes during the opening ceremony of the Olympics

Beijing Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony © Jae C Hong / AP

Margaret Lewis, a Chinese law expert and professor at Seton Hall University, said the IOC was “not a strong force on human rights” and Peng was “just part of it”.

“Now the question is: what will the international community do about it?” she added. “Is this going to just ‘wash, wash, repeat’ every four years? Or is there actually a mechanism for reconsideration.”

Authorities have repeatedly emphasized the non-political nature of the competition, with Bach insisting in the lead-up to the Olympics that his organization would not comment on “political matters”. However, sensitive topics also crept into the final weekend.

Yan Jiarong, a spokesman for the Beijing organizing committee, said on Thursday in response to questions about the possibility of sourcing clothing from Xinjiang that “so-called forced labor” in the region is “a lie”. A day later, Bach called the incident a “problem” and said the IOC had contacted the organizers about the matter.

For China, the Games were a success not only in terms of performance – the country finished fourth in the medal standings at the closing weekend, with eight golds – but also in the effectiveness of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirushas become a test case for its broader response to the pandemic.

Cases in the strict “closed” system, a complex of hotels and Olympic venues, which are cut off completely from the rest of Beijing and China, have been reduced to zero. days before the event ends.

Between the end of January and Thursday, there were 607 cumulative cases identified by more than 1.6 million tests from tens of thousands of participants, most of which were captured via flights to the airport. fly.

In the end, amid the numerous controversies and questions surrounding the Games, the IOC took the initiative to disqualify Valieva and protested her removal from the competition. Court of Arbitration for Sport, in its decision refuse the callsaid depriving her of the ability to participate would cause “irreparable harm”.

In the days that followed, Bach could only transfer responsibility away from the IOC. He points to Wada and Rusada’s ongoing investigations into Valieva’s entourage.

“We can only hope to show her that this is properly addressed and not a traumatic experience for such a young woman,” he said.

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