- Sputnik International, 1920, 01.02.2022
2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing
The XXIV Olympic Winter Games, which are scheduled from 4-20 February, are kicking off in the Chinese capital. Almost 3,000 athletes from over 90 countries are participating in the games, competing in 15 various disciplines.

How Media Hysteria Over 'Doping' Scandal is Messing With Teenager Kamila Valieva's Mental Health

© Sputnik / Alexander Wilf / Go to the mediabankRussian figure skater Kamila Valieva during her practice at 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva during her practice at 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing - Sputnik International, 1920, 12.02.2022
As the mainstream media pounced on the news that Russian figure skating star Kamila Valieva failed a drug test in December, more attention is being paid to the "doping" speculation than to the mental health of the 15-year-old who finds herself at the centre of a huge scandal.
After the International Testing Agency said that Russia's Kamila Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine – a drug prohibited at the Olympic Games – on 25 December (even though her tests right before the Olympics were negative), all hell broke loose.
The mainstream media was quick to pick up the reports of the failed drug test even before any official statements were made. What's more, the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) swiftly asserted that American prosecutors could charge Valieva's coaches over the matter.
Just days ago, the 15-year-old skater wrote her name into the history books by performing the first-ever quadruple jump by a woman at the Olympics, but her hugely promising future in the sport of figure skating is now on the line.
The mainstream media has only poured fuel on the flames of the scandal. A telling photo that's emerged online shows Valieva alone and wearing a black hoodie she's using to cover her face as she walks past a throng of reporters desperately asking her if she's "clean."
Even if there is no intention to directly attack the teenage athlete by the press (it seems the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) is the target), Valieva's mental health needs to be protected, says Roger Kirtz, a Los-Angeles-based sports psychologist.
"I do think it has a very negative effect and they're just trying to write a story and they don't care about the effects that it actually has on an individual. I think it is damaging," Kirtz says. "I think that it's horrible and I don't like that the media can just do whatever they want, seemingly without being regulated and I don't like it."
The pressure that Valieva faced due to the doping test controversy may have sowed seeds of doubt in her young mind, which can have consequences for the rest of her career, the expert notes.

"With all of these accusations and all of these things that are happening in the press, from a mental standpoint, it puts a lot of doubt in her mind if she's really capable of doing this or that people are against her or that she did something wrong," Kirtz explains. "And now it's not her talent that got her winning. And so really, from a psychological standpoint, it could potentially, quite possibly, put a lot of doubt in her mind as to how good she really is."
When you are 15 years old, intrusive thoughts about how the whole world might be against you can poison your mind even when your name is not being tossed around in the mainstream media willing to do anything for a spicy story. Even Mikaela Shiffrin, a 26-year-old athlete from the United States, said in her interview that she feels she doesn't deserve the support she receives; what about someone who is about ten years younger?

"It just speaks to the fact that athletes have so much self-doubt and anything else that becomes so magnified with so many people and becomes such a big stage," Kirtz says. "It is mentally damaging to an individual, and to do this to a 15-year-old is horrible."

The sports psychologist also says that the "negative little stories" swarming in her mind may "completely interfere with her ability to perform well".
It's still unknown if Valieva will be allowed to take part in the singles figure skating event in China, but even if the whole fuss suddenly alleviates, it's feared the damage is already done.
"With all those things kicking around in your mind, even if she doesn't think it's in her mind... If her event is at 10 o'clock, and all of these accusations have been going on all the way up until 9 o'clock that morning, they're still kicking around, even though she's now at the rink and trying to perform," Kirtz outlines.
Aside from the inability to focus properly, there are other possible after-effects, according to Karanbir Singh, a Sports Psychologist at High Performance Centre Tata Steel.
"As Kamila is a teenager, going through such an experience may put her on the rough patch, as we can call this situation psychologically traumatic for her. The consequences could be a deep sense of shame, the guilt which may put her in a state of depression or Post Traumatic Stress," Singh explains.
"She needs more support at the moment rather than bullying her and putting her in jeopardy," the psychologist stresses.
Another sports psychologist, Abhilasha Saharan, points out that not every teenager is familiar with the coping mechanisms that can help when one deals with such pressure. At this age, she explains, people already have to go through puberty, hormonal changes, and physical changes.
"All these together bring in a very stressful stage of confusion, and lack of understanding how to deal with situation," Saharan says. "Also, at the age when they were supposed to learn more and grow in every aspect of their life, every extra minute is managed and invested in their career."
Additionally, due to WADA's strict guidelines regarding doping, athletes can be banned for up to 2 years, she notes, and this "could either break an athlete completely or at least push into a very stressful situation".
"If they have a breakdown due to this, they could easily get into depression or stressed out or burn out all the time, or if an athlete manage to overcome the hardship of those two years, they lose two important years of their career and this could pull them down" in terms of their international rankings, and make it "really difficult to perform again with same energy or effort," Saharan explains.
While it may be not much of a consolation for the distressed young athlete, some media outlets have avoided dragging her into the "broken relations" row between Russia and the International Olympic Committee. For example, journalists from The Washington Post and The Independent have written in support of Valieva, pointing out that her mental well-being must be prioritised.
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva during her practice at Beijing Olympic Games 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 12.02.2022
'Pure and Innocent': Valieva's Coach Confident Doping Row is Either Fatal Coincidence or Planned Act
The drug test controversy is far from over. On 13 February, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is scheduled to hear the case on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency's decision to lift the temporary suspension of Valieva. Meanwhile, on Saturday, the young figure skating star will find out if she's allowed to participate in the singles event.
To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала