Human rights issues, sports washing and another failed drug test – can the Olympics sink any lower?

There was a line of advice from the International Olympic Committee’s spokesman Mark Adams on Saturday: ‘Everybody needs to take a chill pill.’

He wasn’t wrong there, but in the context of discussing a teenager’s positive drugs test, the wording probably was.

Then again, isn’t that the theme of these Winter Olympics? Can’t do right for doing wrong, can’t fully make right what was so wrong to begin with.

Russian skating star Kamila Valieva will learn on Monday if she can stay at the Winter Olympics

By no means have the games been a disaster in its sporting function. The slipping and sliding always take over and while that area has been notably underserved by Team GB athletes, there have been some fine performances from around the camps.

Eileen Gu, Lindsey Jacobellis and Kamila Valieva — on face value, each was immense, at least in their moment of delivery.

But perhaps it is sadly appropriate that the most impressive, Valieva, has been at the heart of a story that ranks among the most depressing in recent memory.

To have a doping case is nothing new for this arena and likewise for it to be a Russian. But to find a child of 15 between those clouds feels like the sort of low that skips generations.

We do not yet know how her hearing is going to play out on Sunday, nor if she is guilty or innocent, as the Russians say.

Valieva tested positive on Christmas Day for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication

Valieva tested positive on Christmas Day for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication

The Court of Arbitration for Sport will listen to arguments and the upshot will determine if she is banned, or free to contest Tuesday’s individual event.

If she is, such was her brilliance in winning the team competition on Monday, she might still be the favourite, even carrying all that baggage.

What is indisputable for now is that the entire episode is grubby as hell, taking all the history she created, when she became the first female Olympian to land a quadruple jump, and soaking it in a bad sample.

The Russians are having none of it, of course, be it their MPs, their sporting delegation or the many bots and trolls on social media that have taken on the rewrite.

In terms of the Russian team, without their own flag here because of a sordid history in the doping game, they are defending their girl, and by extension supporting an entourage around Valieva that will face the biggest of all questions if this situation is not resolved in their favour.

Who knows when the shockwaves will disperse? For now, all we can be sure of is that it is a saga fit for Beijing 2022 — a Games opened to declarations of peace and love, while one million Uyghur Muslims are locked away in re-education camps in Xinjiang, according to human rights groups.

The worry already is that such deeper narratives are being forgotten, because that is always the way once the sport begins. We come in, pontificate over our grandest doubts, watch the curling and leave.

But it feels only right to recall what Rahima Mahmut, of the World Uyghur Congress, said a few weeks back: ‘The Berlin Olympics in 1936 — the signs were there. Now you have all this information on China. The world cannot say it didn’t know.’

It cannot. But once the Olympic flame was lit by a Uyghur skier, it has perhaps stopped listening quite so intently. Regrettably, that is how sportswashing works — and it is made easier with compliant scrubbers like Thomas Bach, the IOC president.

Just witness how he allowed tennis player Peng Shuai to be paraded everywhere from skating to the Big Air, where Gu, the new darling of China, won gold in the host’s biggest moment. It leaves a bad taste.

Valieva is the heavy favorite for Olympic individual gold, which takes place this Tuesday

Valieva is the heavy favorite for Olympic individual gold, which takes place this Tuesday

But then so did the IOC’s choice of a country that needed fake snow — although there was a real blizzard in the Zhangjiakou mountains on Saturday.

That the hosts have been able to stage the Games at all is impressive because of Covid, and while strict rules have ensured it goes on, these will also be the Olympics that brought us the social media sights of athletes crying in their rooms, questioning why it needed to be so draconian.

With a week to go, it is unlikely this edition of the Winter Olympics will be remembered fondly.

But there will be the memory of Gu nailing her final run to go from third to first and Jacobellis exorcising a ghost in the snowboard cross, taking a double 16 years after showboating near the finish line and falling.

Then there is Valieva, whose legacy is currently being decided — is she a champion or victim?

The sport will surely go even higher in the second week, but as a broader package the Olympics have rarely felt so low.


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