By Prof Dr Steve Cornelius, Centre for Sports Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa
More than a month after the conclusion of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, the women, who participated in the figure skating competition, are still awaiting the final result of the team competition.
It could easily also have been the result of the women's short programme that was delayed indefinitely.
The reason is that the Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva, one of the strong contenders for the gold medal, returned an adverse analytical finding in a pre-Olympic doping test. She was provisionally suspended by the Russian Olympic Federation, but, in an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the provisional suspension was lifted pending the outcome of the full anti-doping hearing.
Valieva was, therefore, free to compete in the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted the ruling of CAS, but announced that if Valieva should finish in the top three, the medal ceremony would be postponed pending the outcome of her anti-doping hearing.
In the end, Valieva, clearly exhausted and distracted by the furore around her case, finished the short programme in fourth place. As a result, the feared postponement of the medal ceremony did not materialise and the skaters could enjoy their moment of Olympic glory.
The team competition, however, was another story. With Valieva in the team, the Russians finished first, followed by the USA and Japan. Consequently, the IOC decision to postpone the medal ceremony if Valieva could win a medal, applied and the ceremony was postponed.
The members of the US skating team appealed this decision to CAS, but CAS upheld the decision of the IOC. As a consequence, we may not have the final result of the 2022 Olympic women's team skating event for months to come.
It has certainly already set new world records for the longest delay in announcing the final result and for holding the medal ceremony. The Russian invasion of Ukraine can complicate this even further.
This case again highlights the biggest conundrum in the fight against doping: whilst every effort should be made to ensure that sport is clean and that athletes can compete in an environment where everybody gets an opportunity to perform to the best of his or her natural ability, the delay of results or the adjustment of results, months - or even years - after the event is not satisfactory.
Winning an Olympic medal is often the crowning achievement in a lifetime of excruciating work and dogged determination. When an athlete is denied that moment of glory due to the cheating of others, can it really be redressed by changing the result afterwards?
This was particularly highlighted by the Lance Armstrong scandal. He basked in the glory of multiple Tour de France victories that were all achieved through systematic cheating. In some ways, he still does. But clean athletes, who should have been hailed as the victors, have been denied their moment in the sun. In the same way, the clean Russian skaters, the US team and the team from Japan are also denied their moment of glory. Holding a medal ceremony months - or possibly more than a year later - will simply not be the same. In fact, the legal dispute surrounding the doping case of Valieva could potentially take years to complete whilst the medals (hopefully) lie in a safe somewhere in the IOC offices.
If Valieva should eventually be banned for the doping offence, it is also most likely that the Russian team will forfeit their gold medal. To be fair to the Russian skaters, this is unsatisfactory as it was not due to their fault or even the fault of the Russian Olympic Federation that they are in this predicament. For once, they did everything correctly, but it was CAS that intervened.
A much more equitable solution would have been to allow Valieva to compete in view of the CAS ruling, but to view her participation as unofficial, unless and until she was cleared in a full anti-doping hearing. The official Russian team should then have excluded Valieva and all results and medal ceremonies should have been finalised as if she had not competed, with the caveat that it could later be adjusted if she is cleared of a doping offence in the full hearing. In this way, only one athlete would be affected in the short term and in the longer term, the results would stand if Valieva was banned following the full hearing!