What a slap in the face the Kamila Valieva decision is for athletes who don't cheat | Opinion

BEIJING – What a dark day this is for the Olympic Games and the thousands of athletes who play by the rules and do not cheat by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has spoken, and it has made an awful decision: Russia’s 15-year-old superstar Kamila Valieva, who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug less than two months ago, will be allowed to continue to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics.

She will be the overwhelming gold medal favorite in the women’s figure skating competition, which begins Tuesday and ends Thursday. She will likely leave these Games with two gold medals, one in the team competition and the other in her individual event.

But she won’t get to receive them here. In another sign of just how much of a fiasco Russia has created and CAS has enabled, the IOC announced a few hours after the CAS decision Monday that there would be no medal ceremonies involving Valieva at these Games. No team ceremony, and if she’s in the top three, no women’s medal ceremony and no on-ice flower ceremony.

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The IOC even said a 25th woman would be allowed to participate in the long program, basically telegraphing its opinion that Valieva is radioactive and might well end up being disqualified later.

While it’s a shame the Americans and the Japanese, who finished second and third respectively in the team competition behind the Russians, will not get a medal ceremony here at the Games, the IOC’s dramatic reaction is a stinging rebuke of Russia, and basically screams out: Russia’s cheating, even if CAS let them skate, literally and figuratively.

It was a remarkable few hours at these Olympic Games. What a slap in the face the CAS decision was for every athlete everywhere who has done the right thing, who has asked to be tested more to prove they are not cheating, who have lived their lives for a level playing field, people like Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and Michelle Kwan.

And what a devastatingly awful message this is to the Russians: Keep doping, especially your minor athletes. You’ll get away with it on a technicality every time.

The Olympic Games lost today. Clean sport lost. Cheating won. Russia’s state-sponsored doping system won. The bad guys won.

No matter how sympathetic one is to the plight of Valieva, the CAS decision is the wrong one. Now that they are allowing Valieva to compete, why don’t we welcome back Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong with open arms? Valieva is no doubt a pawn in Russia’s awful system of abuse, lies and denial, but the fact is she tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug less than two months ago. That’s the very definition of cheating.

When we think of the names Johnson, Jones and Armstrong, we think of drug cheats who eventually received their comeuppance. Track and field has never quite been the same since Johnson, then Jones. And cycling? Armstrong’s defense was that everyone was cheating, which is quite a sales pitch to attract new fans.

Even though those three scoundrels were tossed out of their sports, a cloud remained: if you can’t trust what you’re watching, why watch?

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that Kamila Valieva can skate in the women's individual competition.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that Kamila Valieva can skate in the women's individual competition.

This is now the challenge facing these star-crossed, controversy-laden Beijing Olympics. A woman who was just caught doping could leave the Games as one of its biggest stars. Chinese Olympic officials must just be thrilled. Theirs are now a tainted Games, forevermore.

The decision to allow her to skate in the women’s event, and her likely victory, will be a stain on these Games and the reputation of the Olympic movement that will be impossible to remove.

It’s natural to have two conflicting thoughts on the status of this 15-year-old: sadness and anger on her behalf for what the adults in her life did to her, and even more sadness and anger about a decision allowing someone who used an illegal substance to continue to compete in these Games.

You can feel sorry for Valieva and still know that the CAS decision is wrong, very wrong.

Strip down all the confusing particulars of this case and the essential question was this: Are you in favor of doping? Or are you not?

CAS gave an epically wrong answer.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamila Valieva: Russian drug case decision a stain on Olympics forever