The Women’s Free Skate Disaster Everybody Needed To See

Now let’s see if any lessons were learned. I’m dubious.

As even those, like me, who have the integrity combined with a low nausea threshold that prevented me from watching China’s version of the 1936 Munich Olympics, now know about Olympics darling doper Kamila Valieva choking spectacularly in the Women’s Free Skate long program and falling out of the medal race. One has to feel sympathy for the girl, who was subjected to unimaginable pressures because of a tangle of terrible, stupid, unethical decisions made by the adults around her. Beyond that, the result was perfect, exposing so much of what is corrupt and intolerable about so many things: the Olympics generally, these Olympics, women’s skating, women’s sports, Russia, and more.

We begin with the fact that Valieva should never have been allowed to skate in the individual event after testing positive for a banned substance before the Games. The reasoning of the Olympics powers that holding her to the same standards that adults would be held to in the same events she competes with them is subjecting her to “harm” is unethical, the ultimate “Think of the children!’ rationalization. Gee, you idiots, how did that harm avoidance plan work out for her? In what universe would the 15-year-old skater be more harmed by being doped out of the Olympics as any adult skater would be, than by having to compete with a major scandal hanging over her head, and collapsing under the pressure? Sure, what happened was moral luck, but the best case scenario would have also been terrible: the girl stuns the world with a brilliant program, and every medal remains in limbo for months.

Next we saw another example of what Ethics Alarms and others have been arguing for years: subjecting children to high-stakes sports is placing them at risk of child abuse. After the young skater flopped on the ice, her already infamous coach Eteri Tutberidze was seen and heard to berate her when the teen was at her most vulnerable. Even coaches and managers in professional sports don’t do that, in part because the athletes won’t stand for it. It’s bullying. It is also common, not only in women’s skating, but also women’s gymnastics and swimming. Many of the brain-dead accounts of the mess noted that Tutberidze “didn’t hug” the weeping girl. You know, like all those male gymnastics coaches hugged their tiny teen stars, in ritual sexual assault.

Female athletes have to stop the hugging and weeping, if they expect to be regarded as equals to male athletes. They also have to be trained to recognize abuse and to have the courage not to submit to it. I want every child who participates in an organized sport to watch and discuss this scene from “The Bad News Bears.” The pitcher in the Little League championship game has just been humiliated on the mound by his father, the team’s coach. Here is the kid’s response:

Suddenly, the sports media started writing about how the debacle on ice raised renewed questions about banning child participation in the Olympics. There was nothing that occurred that showed anything surprising. The choice is to allow children to compete under exactly the same rules as adults, or not to allow them to compete at all, which is the ethical option. The Olympics powers-that-be managed to find the worst of all options.

The episode also was a vivid reminder that totalitarian, inherently ethics-free cultures ruin everything they touch. Russia is an international sports outlaw, and its athletes should have been banned from these Games. The nation will only begin serious reform when their cheating keeps its athletes at home. The president of the Russian Olympic committee said last week that the country would fight any effort to redistribute medals in the team figure skating competition, even if Kamila Valieva is eventually disqualified for doping. Of course he did. I hope the final results are tied up for years; maybe that will get the message across.

I feel sorry for Valieva. Everyone else, however, including viewers and sponsors, got the ugly results they richly deserved.

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