Sha'Carri Richardson Isn't Holding Back About the Kamila Valieva Decision, Nor Should She

Kamila Valieva will continue to compete at the 2022 Olympics after a positive doping test, and to say the figure-skating world has thoughts on it would be an understatement. "I can't condone the decision," NBC commentator and Olympian Johnny Weir said. "I believe this will leave a permanent scar on our sport," fellow commentator and Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski said. Adam Rippon called the upcoming women's competition, where Valieva is expected to contend for gold, "a complete joke."

American sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson, though, is uniquely justified in her anger. Richardson, you might remember, won the 100m sprint at the US Olympic Trials in June 2020 but later received a one-month suspension after testing positive for marijuana. She had ingested weed, Richardson later said, to cope with the recent death of her biological mother. She missed the Olympics as a result.

Richardson's punishment caused an outcry at the time. Now, as Valieva's case makes headlines, it's exposing some glaring double standards. Richardson couldn't even go to the Olympics, but Valieva is allowed to compete despite using a drug, trimetazidine, that's proven to impact athletic performance? Richardson heard the hypocrisy loud and clear and drew her own conclusions. "Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines?" she asked on Twitter this morning. ". . . The only difference I see is I'm a black young lady." Later she added, "Not one BLACK athlete has been about to compete with a case going on, I don't care what they say!!!"

Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines? My mother died and I can't run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I'm a black young lady.

— Sha'Carri Richardson (@itskerrii) February 14, 2022

It's true that there are other differences beyond the obvious one that Richardson points out. Among its reasons for allowing Valieva to compete, a Court of Arbitration for Sport panel noted Valieva's age of 15, which makes her a "protected person" under the World Anti-Doping Code, while Richardson was 21 when she was suspended.

There was also the fact that Richardson's failed drug test was received within the week that she took it, something the sprinter noted on Twitter as well. Valieva's test results were delayed for six weeks for unspecified reasons, a major point in the CAS panel's ruling. The panel decided that it wasn't fair to suspend Valieva because she didn't have enough time to mount an appeal before the women's individual competition in Beijing.

Of course, it can't be ignored that Richardson was suspended by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), while Valieva's case was handled by its Russian counterpart, RUSADA. It's still unclear why RUSADA, which initially suspended Valieva, later lifted that ban to allow her to compete (which is what led to the the CAS hearing). And as a country, Russia's doping history is highly suspect. The nation is technically banned from these Olympics as punishment for implementing a state-run doping program, which is why the country's athletes must compete as the Russian Olympic Committee.

No one spoke up about "irreparable harm" when it was Richardson's Olympics hanging in the balance.

Yes, there are details that complicate the comparison between Richardson and Valieva's cases. But the fact is that Valieva is allowed to compete while Richardson could not, and that alone exposes glaring weaknesses in the system. An athlete who takes a non-performance-enhancing drug should not face a worse punishment than one who does, even if there's a difference in age, in timing, in all the details. It's one more aspect of this situation that isn't fair — for Richardson, who was forced to sit out the Olympics for a lesser transgression; for Valieva's opponents, who are now questioning how level their playing field is.

Valieva's case is far from over, despite the ruling. Appeals are expected, and the IOC has stated that no medal ceremonies will be held for any event in which she places on the podium. And yet the discrepancies remain. Where Richardson owned up to her positive drug test, the ROC has issued a flood of excuses around Valieva's. Where one athlete bowed out, another's presence will cast a shadow over these Olympics. No one spoke up about "irreparable harm" when it was Richardson's Olympics hanging in the balance.

Valieva is likely not wholly to blame, and her coach, the influential Eteri Tutberidze, has long been viewed with concern for the way her athletes burn out and face injury. There is more to this story than meets the eye, but the disparate outcomes speak volumes. Richardson was caught up in an outdated rule that looks increasingly unnecessary. Valieva — whether it's ultimately her fault or that of the adults around her — is escaping immediate punishment despite proof that she has broken the rules. Richardson, and the rest of the sports world, deserve their outrage.