Editor’s Note: Kaitlyn Weaver is a Canadian ice dancer who, with partner Andrew Poje, competed in the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 and PyeongChang in 2018. She is a three-time World Championship medalist and three-time winner of the Canadian national championship in ice dance. She is the founder of Open Ice Collective and a member of Skate Canada’s equity, diversity and inclusion working group. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
As a young girl growing up in the sport of figure skating, I had a dream of going to the Olympics. I also had a dream that everyone was good, honest, and did the right thing. Unfortunately, only one of those things proved true.
The news coming out of Beijing comes as a surprise to few – another Russian athlete accused of doping. This time, it’s a minor, Kamila Valieva, but it has left the sporting world in chaos, again trying to reconcile our past and somehow wish, hope, and dream of a more just future.
As I’ve scaled the ranks in figure skating, my eyes have been opened to its unparalleled grace, complex and demanding technicality – and also its severe and unabashed inequities. An ethereal, beloved sport intertwined with a storied past of scandal and controversy, figure skating is as confusing as it is beautiful. Loss of faith in knowing that fair play will prevail has damaged our sport and our morale. And while Russia has laid the foundation for much of our sport’s history, it is also seemingly at the root of every disparaging news headline.
The question I keep asking myself is, what is it going to take to reestablish trust in our sport and in its leadership? When we consider trust in sport, safety is inherently implied. And in Olympic figure skating, safety and trust have been breached. Fair play cannot exist without trusting that these pillars are upheld, and if nations can’t play by these rules – that are a part of the Olympic oath – they shouldn’t be allowed to participate at all.
This travesty of an Olympic event we are finding ourselves in has had many failures. The first was not banning Russia after the findings of systemic, state-sponsored doping during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Proof of cheating, doping, switched out samples through a hole in the wall, and government funding were all found to be true. If you haven’t watched the movie “Icarus,” the depth of manipulation and threats might shock you. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes you want to turn your back on sport altogether.
The 2014 Olympics were my Games. I walked every day by the doping control station and was tested as part of ordinary protocol. To think that doping was happening under the nose of so many is deeply disturbing. And what was done about it? Not much. Slaps on the wrist that don’t even leave a mark. Same people, same players, same leadership. Even Dick Pound (formerly of the World Anti-Doping Agency, now of the International Olympic Committee) called the Russians “unrepentant.”
So, here we are again, not yet with evidence that Valieva’s positive test was state-sponsored, but with a positive test nonetheless. And to me, that’s enough. (An IOC official familiar with the situation said Tuesday that Valieva has sought to explain the positive test as contamination from medication taken by her grandfather.)
I understand that standing up to Russia is complicated and hard, but for the IOC, their responsibility is clear. It must be done.
Who knows, if Russia had already been banned from the Olympic arena after its previous infractions, how many children’s lives might be different today? How many Kamila Valievas are there in the pipeline who can be saved from harm?
The timing of all of this is yet another failure. Valieva’s sample was taken in December at the Russian Olympic Trials, so why is her positive test coming to light so belatedly, during the Olympics? If the test was reported as positive for doping a month ago, Valieva could have been removed from this event and investigations could have taken place.
The fact that the news came out now, during the competition, is nothing short of tragic for all involved – Valieva, her fellow competitors who are trying their best to block this all out and just skate, every athlete in Beijing.
To see Valieva’s face after her performances made my heart break for her.
Valieva should not have had to carry this weight. To me, the burden is not hers to bear. And not just about the positive test. She, like many champion Russian female skaters before her, has trained in a system known for its unyielding pressures and brutal physical demands.
All of this is why I believe that in addition to the IOC stepping up to hold Russia accountable, skating’s governing bodies must also develop a global checks-and-balances system, with independent officials who can travel to training centers around the world to help uphold the fundamentals of safe sport. We have to be able to trust someone.
I’m a three-time world medalist in ice dance, and if you don’t know figure skating, basically that’s code for “have been taught by Russians for over half my life.” Katyusha is the Russian pet name given to me by my coaches many years ago, and still follows me into the arena to this day.
My criticism does not come from a place of disrespect for my friends, my contemporaries, my teachers or the rich history that Russia (and USSR) holds within figure skating. A relationship that goes back decades, Russia has always dominated the sport, setting the bar high for music, artistry and fierce competition.
I have the utmost and deepest respect for my sport’s deep and enduring tradition. I would not be the skater I am today without the influence and impact of incredible Russian coaching. It might be difficult to find any skater or coach at the elite level in the world who has not been influenced or taught by a Russian or Russian-adjacent person.
We can respect our past while still looking forward to where our future needs to be. In order to have hope for this sport, change needs to be made. The Olympic oath states, “We promise to take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules and in the spirit of fair play, inclusion and equality.” These words must be honored, not negotiated, and if that is impossible, then sanctions must follow.
Whether as athletes or fans, each of us has to deeply believe and trust that when we participate in sport, the powers that be are right and just, and willing to protect the vulnerable. Can anyone say that’s what’s happened here?
Once every four years, the world comes together for two weeks – to drop our differences at the door, and to celebrate peace, humanity, and fair competition. If, before a skate touches the ice or a judge sits in their chair, that can’t be promised, then the Olympics have no relevance anymore. And that’s not something I think I can accept.
I want my kids to have cereal-box superheroes, to dream about Olympic glory, and to work hard at something that they love. Without The Games, we lose A LOT as a global society, and I believe if we come together and stand up for what’s right, we can move forward; but it has to start from the top, and it has to start now. The world is watching.