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Kamila Valieva and Sha’Carri Richardson

Why these situations aren't comparable

April 22, 2022

Professional Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva, failed her drug test during competition in the Winter Olympics. She tested positive for trimetazidine, a prescription drug used to increase blood flow to the heart. She was suspended from the games, which she later appealed successfully. She was then allowed to compete again, winning top positions.  

The controversy became heated online as the situation was compared to that of American Olympic sprinter, Sha’Carri Richardson, who was suspended from sprinting in the Tokyo games for failing a drug test herself. She tested positive for marijuana, which she admitted to consuming after the death of her mother.  

Racial bias is something that her supporters say came into play when referencing the two similar situations, Richardson being a Black woman and Valieva a white girl. While I wouldn’t say that’s not part of it, I don’t think the situations are as comparable as some people think.  

Valieva is 15, and Richardson is 21. This is the most relevant element of the argument.  

For context, Russian figure skating culture is famously extreme, starting kids in the sport as soon around three years old. The sport is very important to the country’s government as a representation of global status. Some children are molded into professionals by the age of 12. There is a ridiculous amount of pressure on children to be excellent skaters for their countries’, and their own, legacy.  

Creating a legacy still has even more pressure attached to it, because figure skating career primes are over by the age of 20. Everyone is fighting against an age clock to be the best as soon as possible. 

It’s very probable that she was pressured to take drugs by her parents and coaches. Valieva is a child, meaning she is not legally responsible for her actions.  

This could explain why other skaters during the time of the competition avoided commenting on the controversy. Other professionals would know better than anyone about the external pressures of the sport, and how they exploit young children. The silence could’ve been because they empathized with what happened to her, they understood the reasons it happened.  

In every instance, children are given lesser sentences for breaking laws or rules. Children are considered to have less autonomy and understanding of the consequences of their choices. This time shouldn’t be any different. Valieva is a child who broke the rules, while Richardson was an adult. Adults naturally have more severe consequences. 

Richardson had a different style drug in her system, during grief no less. Although she is an adult, legally considered capable of making her own decisions. I don’t think the decision to suspend Richardson was fair, but the consequences for her versus Valieva were never going to be the same in terms of drug use. 

Race probably came into place under the surface, but the biggest difference is that one athlete is a girl, while the other is a woman.  

Despite this obvious difference, thousands of people on the internet have expressed real hatred toward this girl, claiming racism. Although, the age differences make the two athletes’ situations incomparable. To pretend otherwise is unfair. 

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