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Russian skater's doping case leaves WADA uneasy and targeting new rules before next Winter Olympics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The doping case of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva left a “very unpleasant” taste with the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is unhappy that the teenager was the only one punished with a ban while her coaches and entourage have not been sanctioned.

WADA now wants anti-doping rules to be updated before the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy to give more powers to investigate athlete entourages, officials said at the anti-doping body's annual conference Tuesday.

“It is clear that the taste of this case is very unpleasant when you see that there was a choice made to sacrifice an athlete rather than indicating who actually helped her dope,” WADA director general Olivier Niggli said.

Valieva was given a four-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in January following an appeal by WADA. She was 15 when her positive test for a banned heart medication was revealed at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, and later blamed on a strawberry dessert prepared by her grandfather. She has been the only person punished despite the World Anti-Doping Code mandating that the people working with underage athletes implicated in doping cases should also be investigated.

The responsibility to conduct those investigations falls on national authorities and there is no sign that Valieva’s renowned coach Eteri Tutberidze and medical support staff will be held to account in Russia.

Instead, Tutberidze was last year awarded one of Russia’s highest honors authorized by President Vladimir Putin.

Niggli acknowledged that “the evidence is not there” to link the coach directly with Valieva’s doping case, suggesting that “maybe the physio, maybe the doctor” were involved.

Still, WADA confirmed that it feels the adults responsible for Valieva's case have eluded the anti-doping system.

“We think the athlete didn’t take this substance alone, it was not her initiative,” WADA President Witold Banka told The Associated Press in an interview. “She faced the consequences.”

“It is never nice when we see the athlete punished and we feel that someone who was really responsible for it from Russia is free of charge,” Banka added, lamenting that “the current geopolitical situation” will not allow for a WADA-appointed investigation in Russia.

Valieva and Russian sports officials have filed an appeal against the CAS ruling at Switzerland’s supreme court, which can intervene on limited grounds of abuse of legal process. The federal court typically takes at least several months to give a ruling.

The skater’s ban is set to expire in December 2025 — just three weeks after the next global review of the anti-doping code hosted by WADA. That meeting is scheduled to be held in Busan, South Korea.

“Maybe this (Valieva) case shows how important it is that we have to improve in the anti-doping system. We are doing it now,” Banka said.

Tutberidze is now coaching a new generation of teenage Russian skaters preparing for the 2026 Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics.

Niggli was asked what the International Olympic Committee, International Skating Union and anti-doping officials can do to prevent a possible repeat of the Valieva case in Italy.

“The ISU would have to look at their testing program leading up to the games to make sure that all athletes maybe training still with the same coach — even so, we don’t know if she has anything to do with that — are being properly tested,” he said.

In fresh appeals to CAS, Valieva and Russian skating officials are challenging the fallout of her disqualification from the Beijing Olympics. The ISU’s reallocation of points in the team event dropped the Russians from the gold medal to bronze, awarding the Olympic title to the United States.

Canada’s team, which placed fourth in Beijing, also appealed to CAS get the bronze. The court has given no timetable to judge the latest round of appeals.

The team event medals were never awarded in Beijing because of the Valieva case.

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AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games