Kamila Valieva’s participation in the Olympics exemplifies a clear racial double standard

Illustration by Matthew Bennett

Mya HarrisonContributing Writer

“The only difference I see is I’m a Black young lady,” 21-year-old track star Sha’Carri Richardson tweeted out to her 500k followers on Twitter after finding out Russian Olympic figure skater Kamila Valieva was still allowed to compete despite failing a routine drug test just prior to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

After reaching the sixth fastest time in history in the women’s 100 meter race in April 2021 and winning the United States Olympic Qualifiers, Sha’Carri Richardson seemed to be an unstoppable force and destined for greatness at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Unfortunately, after becoming eligible to compete, Richardson tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana, according to the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

The agency recognizes THC as a “substance of abuse,” and immediately suspended Richardson for one month, forcing her to forfeit her spot at the Summer Olympics.

In December 2021, just months after Richardson’s suspension, 15-year-old Russian olympic gold medalist Kamila Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, which is another banned substance listed as a “metabolic modulator.”

Trimetazidine is a medication typically given to older patients to help with heart problems, or can be used as a performance-enhancing drug, according to Chemical and Engineering News. Physiologically, trimetazidine increases blood flow to the heart and allows for more efficient production of ATP, the body’s source of energy. 

On the other hand, marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug. According to a study in “Sports Medicine,” cannabinoids negatively affect information processing and reaction time, which actually worsens sports performance.

Let me say it again.

THC does not enhance athletic performance, but trimetazidine can.

On top of this, in an interview with the Today Show, Richardson said that she used marijuana to cope with the death of her mother, which happened right before Olympic trials were scheduled to start.

Valieva gave a urine sample on Dec. 25, and her positive drug test was returned on Feb. 8 — just one day after her team won gold for the figure ice skating event, according to NPR.

Upon investigation, Valieva was suspended, but shortly after was cleared to skate just before the singles events. Indeed, the Court of Arbitration for Sport disputed the claim and allowed her to skate even though she had tested positive for a banned substance in her system.

The confusion I have had over this is beyond me, but I’ve come to realize the only significant difference between these two situations: Sha’Carri Richardson is Black. 

The term “irreparable harm,” was used to describe what would happen if the committee had gone through with suspending Valieva from competing in the Olympics because of how young she was — but what about Sha’Carri Richardson?

That term never came to mind when they immediately suspended Richardson, despite her having experienced the tragedy of losing her mother.

I can understand why they didn’t let Richardson compete because of the decision to suspend her for one month. Her suspension started on June 28 and the Tokyo Olympics started on July 23, so there wouldn’t be enough time for her to complete her suspension before the commencement of the games in between. The unfortunate thing about this situation is that the committee let Valieva compete even after testing positive. This definitely uncovered a double standard that may or may not have been there already.

If you are going to have specific rules, you should make sure you are implementing them across the board, no matter the age of a person. On top of Richardson expressing her concerns, other Olympic medalists have also publicly disagreed with the Russian Olympic Committee for allowing Valieva to still compete.

“This is a slap in the face to the Olympic Games, to our sport, and to every athlete that’s ever competed at the Olympics clean,” former olympic figure skater Johnny Weir said in a recent interview with The Recount.

The only real concrete punishment Valieva got was the fact that the International Olympic Committee would withhold the medals from her team and herself until the investigation was completed, according to The New York Times.

Sha’Carri Richardson never even got the chance to show off her proven skills on the track. She was immediately barred from even competing, let alone having her medals withheld.

The double standard is the fact that no one tried to understand why Richardson did what she did because of her skin color. People immediately judged her. No one gave her a chance to redeem herself.

She was judged harder than Valieva even though she tested positive for something that is way less performance-enhancing than trimetazidine.

I don’t fault Kamila Valieva — I fault The Court of Arbitration for Sport and our society, which tend to overlook what Black people do and immediately paint them out to be bad people.

Kamila Valieva and Sha’Carri Richardson are two very talented athletes who went through the same situation, but one was given the short end of the stick. Unfortunately, it was the young Black girl. 

There is a double standard in the sports world and it needs to be fixed, especially now that this has happened. We must hold those in power accountable to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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