Will Kamila Valieva Eventually Be Stripped of Any Beijing Olympic Medals?

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva was cleared Monday to compete in the women's individual event at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but as an investigation into doping allegations against the 15-year-old continues, many are wondering if she could eventually be stripped of any medals won during the 2022 games.

Valieva has already won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, as she was part of the Russian Olympic Committee's (ROC) team that bested the United States in the group event. The delay of the medal ceremony for the teams, which was initially described as a "legal matter" by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), eventually led to the revelation that the teenager tested positive for a banned substance before the games began.

Though cases of doping pop up during the Olympics, Valieva's age qualifies her as a "protected person" in the rulebook. That designation means the rules regarding what can and cannot be done about doping are different compared to someone age 16 and up.

According to Monday's announcement, the IOC will not hold a medal ceremony for the women's individual event if Valieva is among the top three finishers. Likewise, the team medal ceremony has been indefinitely postponed until the completion of the investigation into the allegation the skater used trimetazidine, a banned heart medication that can boost blood flow and efficiency. The sample was taken on December 25, 2021, but the results didn't come back until the Olympics were already underway.

According to two experts on sports and law, the decision to forgo the traditional medal ceremony may be the International Olympic Committee's attempt to leave the door open for potentially stripping those medals in the future.

Dionne Koller, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and director of the school's Center for Sport and the Law, told Newsweek that she thinks there's "no question" that the IOC is trying to leave the door open to redistribute any medals won by Valieva.

She also thinks that bypassing the medal ceremony allows the organization to avoid the "very uncomfortable optics" of awarding a medal to someone who the world knows has tested positive for a banned substance.

"To have a medal ceremony under those circumstances would be so destructive to the image that the IOC is attempting to portray here at the clean Olympic Games," Koller said. "So I think it's both image and also trying to leave room for medal reallocations, which if you're reading the rules at all, I think should certainly be coming."

Dr. Paul Haagen, a law professor at Duke University and co-director of the school's Center for Sports Law and Policy, also told Newsweek that he "absolutely" believes that the IOC is trying to leave room to strip her medals in forgoing the medal ceremony.

"What they are attempting to do, I believe, is signal that they regard this as serious. They could strip her after the fact even if they awarded the medal, but they're indicating a relatively high level of concern about the situation," Haagen said.

Valieva
Kamila Valieva of Team ROC looks on during a training session on day ten of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium practice rink on February 14, 2022 in Beijing, China. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Dr. Sarah Teetzel of the University of Manitoba echoed Koller's and Haagen's beliefs that the IOC was trying to send a signal against doping in deciding not to hold the medal ceremonies, but did not speculate on whether the move could be a precursor to Valieva being stripped of any medals.

"The International Olympic Committee, I assume, is not holding the medal ceremonies because they can't be seen to be doing nothing about doping. They can't turn a blind eye," Teetzel told Newsweek.

She also noted that Valieva's young age makes it a "really delicate situation." Teetzel said that if Valieva was older and the protection didn't apply, "I don't think that we would have had the exact same situation play out."

Additional plans include allowing one extra competitor to advance from the women's short program competition on Tuesday to Thursday's free skate, which is yet another signal the IOC is preparing for the possibility Valieva's results -- even if she isn't among the top finishers -- may eventually be invalidated due to her positive test.

The move to allow Valieva to compete was widely criticized Monday, including by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), as well as current and former figure skaters.

The USOPC said in a statement Monday that it was "disappointed by the message this decision sends."

"It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sports and to hold our athletes, coaches and all involved to the highest of standards," USOPC Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland said.

Former Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who currently provide commentary for NBC's figure skating coverage, also disagreed with the decision to let Valieva compete.

"At the end of the day, there was a positive test and there is no question in my mind that she should not be allowed to compete," Lipinski tweeted. "Regardless of age or timing of the test/results. I believe this will leave a permanent scar on our sport."

Weir called it a "slap in the face to the Olympic Games, to our sport, and to every athlete that's ever competed at the Olympics clean" during an interview which aired during NBC's primetime coverage of the games on Sunday after the Super Bowl.