Medals at all costs? Kamila Valieva discovered the ‘ice cold’ reality of failure

Anabel Timmins

The ISR interview recently conducted with Rachael Denhollander regarding sexual abuse at USA gymnastics (USAG) for International Women’s Day 2022 was recorded before the Winter Olympics. However, the scenes of a 15-year-old girl caught up in a doping scandal less than 10 years after Russia was found to have engaged in a scheme to ‘steal the Sochi’ Olympics, has resonance; both with the abuse experienced at USAG, and with recent geo-political events, where Russia clearly refuses to play by the rules. This blog entry by Annabel Timmins of LimeCulture sheds light.

Less than 10 years after Russia attempted to ‘steal’ the Sochi Olympics through systematic doping fraud, 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who had failed a drugs test but had (inexplicitly) been allowed to compete, failed to win a medal. After being on the front page of every newspaper in the world, the pressure had clearly been too much, and she fell during her last performance.

The ice-cold scenes of her being berated by her coach, when she didn’t meet the exacting standards expected of her, was a tough watch. But what now? How has this changed what we do?  It is the path of least resistance to watch it unfold, feel uncomfortable, comment and move on.  We would be saddened but not surprised if a similar story unfolds in Paris in 2024, or down the road in a sports club in the next town on Saturday.

Can we justify our own inaction by considering Valieva’s conciliatory words to her coach: ‘You not only train, but also teach how to overcome yourself, which helps not only in sport but also in life’? I would argue not. 

To stand by and accept such treatment of athletes is to reinforce the acceptability of psychological abuse.  Collectively, we would be reinforcing the priority of performance over compassion, and the reach of this filters down from elite athletes through to grass roots participants. This is not an isolated incident taking place over 5,000 miles away or existing within the exclusive domain of authoritarian states. This is every day, in every sport.

The very definition of sport includes an element of competing. We are taught from a young age about winning and being the best. Social media oversharing children’s achievements, emphasising life’s medals is laying the groundwork for an unconscious tolerance for emotionally abusive training and coaching.

We watched the icy scene unfold thousands of miles away, in a setting unfamiliar to most of us, and allowed our everyday life to gradually wash away any sense of outrage. It is very simple to separate out what we have seen from what we do and who we are. We are professionals, parents, athletes, participants, volunteers. We are a collective army of resources and we could transform what can feel like watered down token values into something rock solid and impenetrable. We could put our collective outrage to good use by challenging what we see, modelling how we behave, expecting our shared values to be evidenced.

So what about the argument that Valiera’s coach gets results at the highest level? For every Eteri Tutberidze there is a coach who sees the child before the athlete. US gymnast Simone Biles was rightly applauded for stepping back from elite competition when she recognised it was not right for her to continue. We have a part to play in creating a culture where such fundamental acts of self-preservation are not seen as brave and requiring extreme self-confidence. Such acts should be accepted as a fundamental right of all athletes at any level.

We can support this to happen by not accepting abusive coaching methods, living out our values, dusting off and promoting policies that reinforce human rights. We need to teach children the acceptance of not always achieving and not lose the joy of taking part. Be outraged by what you saw and use that to make changes.

Annabel Timmins is Safeguarding in Sport Manager at LimeCulture, the UK’s leading sexual violence training and consultancy organisation.

Photo by Thomas Laukat from Pexels

Slackening of Statutory Measures to Safeguard Children: An Outcome of the Coronavirus Outbreak

Since lock down measures have been implemented in the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for England has exercised its powers to make changes to regulations concerned with the care planning, placement and review of services designed for some of our most vulnerable children.

Specifically, changes have been made which dilute regulations relating to the protection and care of children and young people who live in residential family centres and who are cared for by foster carers. The amendments to regulations also relax requirements relating to the inspection of these services and to the planning of care arrangements for children and young people. Worryingly, the broad scope for translating these amendments into practice increases the risk of ‘looked after’ children’s rights not being acknowledged and met.

On 24th April 2020 a new statutory instrument ‘The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020’  came into force and will remain in force until 25th September 2020. Changes made by this instrument amount to a watering down of previous regulations aimed to protect children cared for in state- and privately-run institutions, and in foster care.  The amendments include the addition of key phrases, such as “as far as is reasonably practicable” and “where applicable” which have the effect of weakening previously mandatory requirements. For example, under Regulation 33 (2) of The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 a duty was placed on local authorities to carry out reviews of every child in care “at intervals of not more than six months”. However, under point 8 (14) of the April 2020 amendments this requirement has been substituted with “where reasonably practicable” thus removing the obligation to ensure the frequency of reviews.

Additionally, Regulation 9 of The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 states that where the registered manager or the responsible individual of a Fostering Agency is convicted of any criminal offence “that person must without delay give notice in writing to the Chief Inspector of (a) the date and place of the conviction,[and] (b) the offence of which they were convicted”. However, amendment 9 (5) of the April 2020 regulations substitutes the term “without delay” with “as soon as is reasonably practicable” thus meaning that a Foster Care Manager could be convicted for committing a criminal offence but still be managing the Fostering Agency.

There has also been a relaxation of previously stipulated timeframes in which local authorise are required to act in order to help safeguard children. For example, under Regulation 6 of The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015, there was a requirement that the care children receive “is delivered by a person who (i) has the experience, knowledge and skills to deliver that care; and (ii) is under the supervision of a person who is appropriately skilled and qualified to supervised that care”. Point 11 (2) of the 2020 amendments has altered this requirement to “as far as reasonably practicable” thus having the potential to significantly relax this statutory requirement.

The loosening of regulations, albeit currently implemented for only limited period of time, could have serious consequences for around 80,000 (as estimated by Rights4children) children and young people in England living in state – and privately-run institutions, if the care they are receiving is inadequate and not suited to their needs. More reasons to worry, in already worrying times.

Professor Carol Robinson is Professor of Children’s Rights within the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.


Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash