The International Olympic Committee says it will abide by a decision that 15-year-old Kamila Valieva be allowed to skate in Beijing but if she wins "no medal ceremony will take place."



The case of a young, Russian figure skater who tested positive for a banned drug has been the talk of the Winter Olympics. And that talk is bound to continue even though a sports panel ruled today that 15-year-old Kamila Valieva can keep skating in Beijing. The Court of Arbitration for Sport decision means Valieva can compete in this week's highly anticipated women's individual event, where she's the Gold Medal favorite. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now from Beijing. Hi, Tom.


FADEL: So everyone was waiting for this Court of Arbitration for Sport decision. Was it a surprise?

GOLDMAN: You know, not really. It was going to be controversial either way. If they said she couldn't skate, would have been a huge blow to the Games, losing one of its biggest stars. And it would have overwhelmed us last week. If the decision was what it was, that she can skate, there would be anger about allowing this person to compete. And we are seeing that anger already. So basically, it was a lose-lose situation.

FADEL: So why did the court give - allow her to compete?

GOLDMAN: Well, she's under 16. And according to the World Anti-Doping Code, she is what's called a protected person - meaning someone who gets lower sanctions for violations and someone more likely to have her career severely affected by a suspension. This is the court's director general. His name is Matthieu Reeb.


MATTHIEU REEB: In particular, the panel considered that preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances.

GOLDMAN: Now, Leila, Reeb also noted what he called the untimely notification of the results. And that's really at the heart of this mess. Valieva gave a drug test sample Christmas Day last year. And the result wasn't revealed for another 40-some days, during these games and after she'd already competed and helped Russia to win the team competition. And by the way, the International Olympic Committee announced late today there will be no medal ceremony for that team event here at the Games, in which the U.S. took silver, or if Valieva wins a medal in the individual. No medal ceremonies until all this resolved. And it won't be resolved here.

FADEL: OK. So they say it might cause her irreparable harm. But what about those competing against her starting tomorrow?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. That's a good question. You know, if you're in the women's individual event and the favorite, who will skate, tested positive for a banned drug - and we don't know if it was actual intentional doping. The court didn't rule on the merits of this case. All of that happens at a later time. But, yeah, suddenly this entire competition has a huge question mark hanging over it. And it brings to light, once again, Russia's ongoing issues with banned drugs. This is the fourth straight Olympics where Russia has been under this dubious sort of punishment. Its flag and anthem are banned. Athletes aren't referred to directly as Russian athletes. Many, you know, continue to call it a farce.

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, it does feel like every Olympics, there is a Russian doping scandal. So why do these issues keep coming up?

GOLDMAN: You know, critics say it's because Russia has never been truly punished for its doping offenses. In reality, Leila, Russia is a hugely rich and powerful Olympic stakeholder. And for the IOC, critics say, it's better to slap Russia's wrist than hand down meaningful punishment that, you know, would force the country to confront its doping issues and, perhaps, to truly reform.

FADEL: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman in Beijing. Thank you so much for your reporting.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.