Legal problems for the coach and others in Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s orbit could arise in the United States even after her Beijing Games doping case is resolved.
Anti-doping experts say the episode falls under a recently enacted US law that criminalizes doping schemes at events involving US athletes. The law provides for fines of up to $1 million and prison terms of up to 10 years for those who participate in doping schemes that influence international sports.
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“Doctors and trainers who administer performance-enhancing drugs to athletes are directly liable” under the new law, said one of its authors, attorney Jim Walden. “They risk jail, heavy fines and confiscation. And I suspect the FBI is already on that trail.”
On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared Valieva to participate in the women’s competition this week.
It remains to be seen what to do with the gold medal won by the Russians – with Valieva in the lead – in last week’s mixed team competition. Because Valieva is 15 and considered a “protected person” under world anti-doping rules, the penalties against her could be light.
This does not exempt his entourage from possible anti-doping sanctions beyond the possible withdrawal of the medal from the Russian team. Walden and others expect these same people will also be investigated by US law enforcement.
“The latest Russian doping scandal in Beijing is exactly why we passed the Rodchenkov anti-doping law. Doping is corruption,” said Sen Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, involved in anti-doping issues.
Walden represents the bill’s namesake, Grigory Rodchenkov, the Russian lab director who exposed Russia’s complex and widespread doping program designed to help the country win medals at the 2014 Sochi Games and elsewhere. Rodchenkov now lives in hiding.
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The Rodchenkov law was not designed to target athletes. It targets coaches, doctors and other members of an athlete’s entourage who are accused of organizing doping schemes in any event involving US athletes, sponsors or broadcasters.
The bill, backed by Walden, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and others, passed both houses of Congress unanimously and was signed into law in December 2020. It was considered a remarkable achievement given of the polarization of American politics.
White House Drug Control officials in the Trump and Biden administrations have criticized global anti-doping regulators. They threatened to withhold funding from the World Anti-Doping Agency, but recently paid their remaining dues despite some major concerns.
The law’s first test came last month when federal officials accused a doctor of providing drugs to “Athlete A”, whom The Associated Press identified as Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare.
The IOC and WADA lobbied against parts of the bill. Their main argument was that it gave US law enforcement too much leverage in policing anti-doping cases that occur outside of their own borders.
This case – a Russian who was discovered to have doped on December 25 during a national championship – seems, on the face of it, to fit that profile. WADA said it took officials six weeks to receive the test from a lab in Sweden because the Russian anti-doping agency (RUSADA) had not flagged it as a priority. The fact that Valieva was allowed to compete in the Olympics makes this an international episode.
The AMA said in a statement it was “disappointed with the decision” and would also “review” Valieva’s support staff. The Russian anti-doping agency has also opened an investigation.
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But WADA and IOC critics say the bill was passed because the international anti-doping system has proven it cannot control its own. They point to the sanctions imposed on Russia over the past eight years as Exhibit A. Part of those sanctions resulted in years of suspensions and reforms for RUSADA, which is overseeing this case.
Critics argue that the case involving Valieva might not have come to light if the country – whose athletes compete in Beijing under the banner of the “Russian Olympic Committee” due to the sanctions – had been penalized appropriately.
“If I was a bettor, I’d say there’s a 95% chance it’s a good case for” the law, said Rob Koehler, the head of advocacy group Global Athlete.
Although the law provides for stiff penalties, it is hard to imagine that US authorities would ever catch Russians if they were charged. Still, an indictment would have an impact. This could reduce their ability to travel or travel outside of Russia, as the United States has extradition agreements with dozens of countries around the world.
Valieva tested positive for the banned heart drug trimetazidine.
“We need more facts, but you can consider a case like this under Rodchenkov,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “This drug doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Assuming the facts prove that someone was involved in administering it to enhance performance, it fits like a glove.”