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Provisional Suspensions to protect the Integrity of Competitions

Probably like many others, I was challenged with understanding the CAS decision to allow Kamila Valieva to compete at the past Winter Olympic Games despite an initial provisional suspension imposed by RUSADA. In their decision, the CAS panel suggested that minors, analogous to the less strict set of sanctions that can apply to them, ought to receive preferential treatment to avoid a provisional suspension that exceeds the length of any potential final suspension. Despite the compassion that a 15-year-old athlete in the eye of the storm deserves, this interpretation of the Code does not match my understanding of the anti-doping rules.  

In the presence of a potential anti-doping rule violation (ADRV), provisional suspensions are essential to protect the integrity of upcoming competitions while the results management proceedings are conducted. The age of the athlete is not relevant to this principle, as it is not the athlete but the competition that is the target of the provision.  

The CAS panel highlighted the risk that the provisional suspension in this case could exceed the actual sanction imposed and although this scenario is possible, it is not clear if evidence was considered to support this argument. Code Signatories will have their own opinions if lowering the burden of provisional suspensions for minor athletes is something that should be specifically stated in the next edition of the Code, but in the meantime, the decision of the CAS arbitrators, despite their legitimate intention to balance rules with a just outcome, feel like moving the goalposts in the middle of a match.   

In light of the untimely notification of the positive result and the constraints of conducting a full results management process prior to the athlete’s second competition of the Games, the CAS panel determined that allowing the athlete to compete would spare her from irreparable harm if she was later cleared from the ADRV or only received a reprimand. However, the CAS decision does not explain how the possible irreparable harm was weighted against the harm caused to the right of other athletes to participate in a competition whose results are final and not under revision.  

Upholding the integrity of the competition to ensure the rights of all clean athletes are balanced is the intention of a provisional suspension, which from my understanding of the anti-doping rules, was justified and necessary in this case.  

Jorge Leyva