It was perhaps the most important event of the Beijing Olympics, and hardly anyone got to see it.
Just after 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, the door to a conference room at Beijing’s Grand Continental Hotel closed and a hearing began. The task of the referees who left the room nearly six hours later is to determine whether Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who learned on Tuesday that she had failed a pre-Olympic doping test, can continue to participate in the Games. .
The hearing was conducted by a panel of three arbitrators appointed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the body that adjudicates global sporting disputes. They have been asked to consider appeals filed by three organizations – the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the world governing body for skating – against Russia’s anti-doping agency, known as Rusada.
None of the testimony was aimed directly at whether Valieva, 15, was guilty of taking a banned drug, traces of which were found in a sample she submitted in December. Rather, the organizations were seeking to reinstate a provisional suspension that Rusada imposed on Valieva on Tuesday and then lifted the following day.
Communicating largely through video links from outside China, the parties’ legal teams presented their arguments to the panel, which is led by a London-based US lawyer. CAS General Secretary Matthieu Reeb said Valieva planned to provide video testimony, but few other details were expected; CAS hearings are normally held in the strictest secrecy and those involving charges against a minor require the utmost care.
Yet as the hearing unfolded, several members of the media were surprised to receive an email from an IOC official that included a video of an interview with the head of the Russian Olympic Committee that aired during the hearing. In the clip, which was described to The New York Times by a person who had viewed it, the Russian official, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, criticized the manipulation of the Valieva sample by the Swedish testing partner of the Russian anti-doping agency. .
Sharing the clip was extremely unusual; the IOC and the Russian Olympic Committee are opposed in this case, and the hearing was still ongoing at the time. The video depicting an aspect of Russia’s defense appears to be the only one the Olympic official has shared with members of the media.
Valieva became a star of these Games: the first woman to land a quad jump at the Olympics, and a key part of the Russian team that won the team event, although the medals from her victory – and those silver and bronze medalists – have yet to be distributed as the doping case continues. Sunday’s hearing will help determine if Valieva can go for her own gold medal in the women’s competition which begins Tuesday.
The hearing ended nearly six hours after it began and ended at 2:10 a.m. local Beijing time. The three-person panel will reconvene on Monday to complete its deliberations.
CAS said Sunday that the panel plans to notify the parties of its decision around 2 p.m. in Beijing (1 a.m. Eastern Time) on Monday, and publicly announce that the finding shortly day before Valieva is – for now – scheduled to compete in the women’s short program.
The stakes in the decision for the Olympics and the global fight against doping couldn’t be higher. As a Russian, Valieva competes for a nation unable to compete in global sports under its own name or flag under a multi-year ban tied to a state-run doping program. who sought to corrupt the results at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
But none of that was to be part of Sunday’s discussion. There was also expected to be little discussion about how the banned heart drug trimetazidine ended up in Valieva’s system, or why it took more than six weeks for the results to appear. of a test submitted in December are confirmed by the testing laboratory in Stockholm. this.
Instead, the hearing was to focus on process and proportionality, with arbitrators being asked to weigh a largely philosophical argument against the harm of applying an immediate ban to a 15-year-old girl – and blocking her from the biggest competition of her life – against potential damage to the integrity of the competition if she is allowed to compete.
As a minor, Valieva enjoys a different status than older athletes, which means that any punishments that may possibly be imposed are likely to be less severe than those typically meted out for a similar test failed by an adult. But that’s a conversation for another day, and for another hearing that will probably take place months from now.