Under U.S. law, Olympic skater’s entourage may face problems

ZHANGJAKOU, CHINA (AP) – Legal problems for coach and others in the orbit of Russian figure skater Kamila Valiyeva may arise in the United States even after her doping case from the Beijing Games is resolved.

Anti-doping experts say the episode falls under a recent U.S. law that criminalizes doping schemes in events involving American athletes. The law provides for fines of up to $ 1 million and imprisonment for up to 10 years for those involved in doping programs that affect international sports.

“Doctors and coaches who give athletes drugs to improve performance are directly responsible under the new law,” said one of its authors, attorney Jim Walden. “They face imprisonment, large fines and confiscation. And I suspect the FBI is already following suit. ”

On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed Valievato to compete in the women’s competition this week.

It has not yet been decided what to do with the gold medal the Russians won – with Valieva as the headliner – in the mixed team competition last week. Because Valieva is 15 years old and is considered a “protected person” under global anti-doping rules, sanctions against her can be light.

This does not exempt her entourage from possible anti-doping sanctions, except for the possible deprivation of a medal in the Russian national team. Walden and others expect the same people to also come under investigation by U.S. law enforcement.

“The latest Russian doping scandal in Beijing is exactly why we adopted the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. Doping is corruption, ”said Ben Ben Cardin, an anti-doping agent in Maryland.

Walden represents the namesake of the bill, Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia’s lab director, who announced a complex, widespread Russian doping scheme designed to help the country win medals at the 2014 Games in Sochi and elsewhere. Rodchenkov now lives in hiding.

Rodchenkov’s law was not designed to persecute athletes. It is aimed at coaches, doctors and other members of the athletes’ environment who are accused of organizing doping programs in any case involving American athletes, sponsors or broadcasters.

The bill, backed by Walden, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and others, was passed unanimously through both houses of Congress and was signed in December 2020. This was recognized as a remarkable achievement given the polarization in U.S. policy.

Officials from the White House Drug Enforcement Administration in the Trump and Biden administrations have been critical of global anti-doping regulators. They threatened to withhold funding from the World Anti-Doping Agency, but recently paid the balance of contributions, despite some serious concerns.

The first check of the law came last month, when federal officials accused a doctor of providing drugs to “Athlete A,” whom the Associated Press called Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare.

The IOC and WADA lobbied against part of the bill. Their main argument was that it gave U.S. law enforcement agencies too much leverage in police cases occurring outside its own borders.

This case – a Russian man who was diagnosed with doping at the national championship on December 25 – seems to correspond to this profile at first glance. There was no explanation as to why it took six weeks for her test results to be published. The fact that she was allowed to participate in the Olympics turns her into an international episode.

WADA said in a statement that it was “disappointed with the ruling” and also “considered” Valiyeva’s support staff. The investigation was also launched by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency.

But critics of WADA and the IOC argue that the bill was passed because the international anti-doping system has proven it cannot control its own. They point to sanctions imposed on Russia over the past eight years, as Appendix A. Some of these sanctions have led to delays and reforms of the Russian anti-doping agency overseeing the case.

Critics say the case involving Valiyeva could not have unfolded if the country, whose athletes are performing in Beijing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee because of sanctions, had been punished properly.

“If I were a bookmaker, I would say there is a 95% chance that this is a good thing,” said Rob Keller, head of the Global Athlete advocacy group.

Although the law provides harsh punishments, it is hard to imagine that US authorities will ever fall into the hands of the Russians if they are charged. However, the prosecution will have an impact. This could reduce their ability to travel or train outside of Russia, as the United States enters into extradition treaties with dozens of countries around the world.

Valieva tested positive for the banned heart drug trimetazidine.

“We need more facts, but you can imagine such a case under Rodchenkov,” said USADA Director General Travis Taygart. “This drug is out of nowhere. Assuming someone was involved in giving it to her for performance, it fits like a glove. ”

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