Kamila Valieva Scandal Keeping China From Answering Controversial Questions

The doping scandal surrounding young Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has drawn much of the world's attention away from several other controversies involving China, the host country of the Beijing 2022 Olympics.

Before Valieva's positive test for a banned heart medication became a top concern, non-Chinese reporters at daily Olympics briefings had been asking about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, China's actions involving Uyghur Muslims, and COVID-19 mitigation measures, the Associated Press reported.

Now all eyes are largely pointed at Valieva, 15, whose clearance to compete in the women's individual event has drawn criticism and raised additional questions. Valieva will head into the long program in the top spot on Thursday after earning the highest score in the short program Tuesday. But if the Russian figure skater does win a medal, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will not hold a medal ceremony.

The sensitive topics connected to China have cast a cloud over the Beijing Olympics in the months and weeks leading up to the event. Several countries—including the U.S., Canada and Australia—announced diplomatic boycotts of the Games last year to protest alleged human rights abuses by the Chinese government. This includes the internment of at least 1 million Uyghurs, which the U.S. and others have described as genocide even though China has called it the "lie of the century," the AP reported.

Valieva Doping Scandal
The doping scandal surrounding young Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has drawn much of the world's attention away from several other controversies involving China, the host city of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Court of Arbitration for Sport director general Matthieu Reeb addresses a press conference at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, in Beijing. Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

Tennis player Peng, 36, drew international attention and concern after a Weibo post in November that accused a former top government official of sexually assaulting her, Newsweek previously reported. The post was soon removed and Peng vanished from public view for multiple weeks, sparking concern for her safety and calls to investigate China's actions.

When Peng spoke out again about a month later, she denied that she had made any sexual assault allegations against the official and said that there were "many misunderstandings." Peng again refuted that she had made the allegations in a controlled interview in Beijing earlier this month, but some activists and critics have wondered whether her statements were "forced," Newsweek reported.

IOC President Thomas Bach said during a February 3 briefing, the day before the Games began, that the organization would not be commenting on "political issues." But reporters still asked about Peng and the Uyghurs when the Games began, as well as the bubble that segments Beijing's residents off from reporters and athletes at the Olympics, per the AP.

Much of that changed with the news of Valieva's positive test for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication that can boost blood flow and endurance. Valieva has received an outpouring of support, but many have decried the decision to still let her compete.

Meanwhile, much of the uncomfortable attention and inquiries that were directed at China are now focused on her. In an email to the AP, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said that the Chinese government is the "big winner" in the Valieva doping scandal.

"What a relief for them to not have to fend off comments about human rights," Wallechinsky said.

Update 2/15/22, 11:40 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and background.