There are few topics that are more controversial to sports fans than doping. Many argue that anti-doping efforts are necessary to maintain integrity in competitive athletics at all levels. Others argue for the abolishment of drug testing in favor of “super leagues” where athletes are free to put whatever they want into their bodies to truly test the limits of human performance. And there’s plenty of gray area in between where people question the effectiveness of anti-doping measures, the harm of performance enhancing drugs, and the ethics surrounding testing athletes and the implications for bodily autonomy.
Invariably, doping comes up every Olympics, where the best athletes in the world come together to show off their skills, some of them bending and breaking the rules to get there. This time around, the conversation has centered around 15-year-old Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva, who, two weeks ago, became the first female figure skater in Olympic history to land a quad. However, her accomplishments have been overshadowed by a positive drug test following the competition, indicating she took heart treatment drugs that are listed as banned substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency. After the ensuing media frenzy, Valieva fell multiple times in her free skate competition despite being the gold-medal favorite, and failed to medal individually.
I’m not going to write about the ethics of doping here for two reasons. 1.) That conversation deserves a post of its own and 2.) the Kamila Valieva situation, however you slice it, is a tragedy, and it’s really not about doping at all. Instead, it’s yet another story of athletes being objectified and viewed as products and it’s upsetting to watch spectators place so much blame and disdain on the athlete, rather than her home country. Valieva is a minor who was quite possibly drugged without her knowledge or consent, and is one of many athletes who are used, abused, and discarded by their countries for nationalistic purposes under the guise of organized athletic competition. And before we exclusively point our fingers at Russia, the United States is far from innocent here. We only need to look briefly into the Cold War Olympics where U.S. athletes were framed as extensions of nationalist power, or the more recent abuse of our Olympic gymnasts, to see this is true. Further, Valieva’s country of origin doesn’t matter when it comes to her rights and human dignity. She is being treated as a prop and that’s wrong. These are people’s lives we’re talking about and this is serious.
It’s also hypocritical. The following are are pages I pulled from the Olympic Charter outlining the purpose of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in light of the situation. Look at how many points are directly contradicted by how Valieva has been treated (and that’s what we see publicly). Numbers 1, 8-13, and 18 especially stick out to me. How on earth can the IOC claim it stands by women, promotes the physical and mental health of athletes, and opposes the political or commercial abuse of athletes in light of what we’ve just witnessed?
The next picture describes the values of Olympism, which the Olympics are supposedly predicated on. Excellence, friendship, and respect? That’s laughable. Instead, the IOC is teaching everyone that the true values of Olympism are power, greed, and winning at all costs.
The IOC has long prided itself on being “apolitical” and the Olympic Charter has maintained that Olympic competitions are between individual athletes, rather than clashes between countries. Perhaps, then, the IOC should punish those who break athletes’ bodies for the sake of national pride. That, to me, would inch Olympic competition toward the so-called “pure sport” ideal the IOC has championed for decades. And that has nothing to do with doping and everything to do with dignity.
Katie (M.K.) Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin where she studies NCAA discourse and policy. She is also a freelance sportswriter and creative writer on the side. She is the author of a new book ‘Surviving the Second Tier’ available on AMAZON. Twitter and Instagram: @leverfever.