Kamila Valieva doping scandal sparks debate on Olympic athlete age limit

Kamila Valieva

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has revealed that an age limit could be imposed for athletes following the Kamila Valieva doping scandal.

Bach told reporters at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics that the IOC Executive Board was discussing the possibility of introducing an athlete age cap.

The conversation has been sparked by the doping scandal involving 15-year-old figure skater Valieva.

There is currently no official age limit to compete at the Olympic Games. In fact, the average age of female skateboarders at Tokyo 2020 was just over 14-years-old.

“There are issues to be addressed,” Bach said. “This concerns the issues of minors in senior competition.

“We have already started in the IOC Executive Board to think about, but this needs careful deliberation and consultation on two fronts.

“One is with regards to the World Anti-Doping Agency, to see whether there is the need to adapt the rules. The other stakeholders are the International Federations over whether the establishment of minimum age of participation is an appropriate measure.

“This is for the International Federations, but we will initiate such consideration and give them food for thought.”

Valieva was confirmed to have tested positive for banned substance trimetazidine at the Russian Figure Skating Championships in Saint Petersburg in December.

The sample was only analysed by a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory on February 8th, however, after the athlete had already helped Russia to a gold medal in the team figure skating event.

Valieva was cleared to compete in the women’s singles competition after the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided against re-imposing a provisional suspension on her.

But she failed to finish on the podium, stumbling a number of times in the free skate to place fourth instead. Valieva was visibly emotional after competing.

Bach confirmed he watched the event on television, and criticised Valieva’s entourage for their “coldness” during the competition.

“I was very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on television,” he said. “I saw how high the pressure must have been on her, this pressure is beyond my imagination.

“In particular for a girl of 15-years-old, to see her struggling on the ice, seeing how she tries to compose herself again and finish her programme.

“You could see in the body language, this was an immense mental stress. Maybe she would have preferred to leave the ice and leave the story behind her.

“When I saw how she was received by her entourage, but what appeared to be a tremendous coldness, it was chilling to see this.

“Rather than try to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance. If you interpret the body language, it got even worse.”

Due to Valieva’s status as a protected person under the WADA Code, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency and WADA have begun investigations into Valieva’s entourage.

Bach confirmed that “very strong measures” would be taken should wrongdoing be discovered.

“All this does not give me much confidence in the entourage of Kamila with regard to the past nor with regard to the future” he said. “How to deal, how to treat minor athletes in the age of 15 under such mental stress.

“I can only wish for Kamila Valieva that she has the support of her family, of friends, of people who help her over this extremely difficult situation.”

Valieva is likely to face a full doping hearing after the conclusion of the Games, and could well be stripped of the gold medal she earned in the team event.

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