Kamila Valieva, the teenage Russian figure skater billed as the best ever, will get to compete for a second gold medal in the 2022 Olympic Games Beijing competition, despite testing positive for a banned medication. That is the ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Imagine the outcry and accusations from critics of horse racing (e.g., crooked, doped up, and inhumane) if a horse testing positive for a banned substance was allowed to run in, say, the Breeders’ Cup Classic or if Kentucky horse racing regulators ultimately let Medina Spirit’s win in the 2021 Kentucky Derby stand even though he had traces of a prohibited drug in his system.

Notwithstanding the double standard, American horse racing is treated differently than most other sports, likely because betting directly supports it and animals are involved. Racing has experienced detrimental publicity and outright hostility in recent years over two incidents in its signature event, the Kentucky Derby. In 2019, there was the controversial disqualification of Maximum Security owing to careless riding by his jockey.  Then, in 2021, putative winner Medina Spirit turned out to have raced on a banned substance.

Over the next week or two the Medina Spirit episode will resurface in the public spotlight as Kentucky racing stewards meet to consider whether to disqualify the now-deceased colt.  Separately, the California Horse Racing Board released a necropsy report last Friday that was inconclusive as to the cause of death.

I thought about the public-relations hit racing has suffered over the 2019 and 2021 Derby races, as well as other egregious high-profile “drugging” embarrassments, while I was perusing headlines from the Olympics Games Beijing 2022.  Here are a sampling:

“Russian Doping Test Engulfs Skating’s Marquee Events”

“Kamila Valieva Drug Test Silence has 2022 Olympics ‘Teetering’ on Disaster”

“Chill Falls on Winter Olympics”

“Kremlim backs Kamila Valieva with Teen Figure Skater’s Drug Test Scandal Rocking 2022 Olympics”

“’Irate’ 2022 Olympics Announcer Loses His Mind over Ayumu Hirano Judging Controversy”

“Viral Olympics GIF Allegedly Shows Team China Speed Skater Push Puck to Trip Canada Opponent”

“Gold Medalist Nils van der Poel Accuses Rivals of ‘Corruption’ at 2022 Olympics”

“Confusion Reigns after Chinese Men’s Track Relay Team Advances on Judge Ruling”

“U. S. Snowboarding Caught Between Gold Medal Celebration, Misconduct Investigation”

As a longtime horse-racing fan, I did not read these with a sense of schadenfreude, but rather, found them sadly relevant. The headlines only serve to emphasize that no matter how strictly a sport is regulated, there will be cheaters who try to game the system and judges whose decisions are called into question.  This reality provides a powerful impetus to having strict rules consistently enforced, and doubly so in a sport like horse racing, whose business model and survival are based on pari-mutuel wagering. 

A betting-based sport must in word and deed secure a reputation for coming down hard on serious rules infractions, particularly for habitual offenders, regardless of whether a violation amounted to an intentional defrauding of bettors or was due to an inadvertent mistake. In other words, horse racing has to have higher standards than the Olympics and most other sports when it comes to enforcement of rules and regulations.

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