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US Anti-Doping Agency wants probe into Chinese swimming scandal, welcomes Wada lawsuit threat

US Anti-Doping Agency wants probe into Chinese swimming scandal, welcomes Wada lawsuit threat
China's team – Yang Junxuan, Zhang Yufei, Li Bingjie and Tang Muhan – after winning a surprise gold medal with a world record in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 29 July 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yonhap)

The US and world anti-doping authorities are on a legal collision course following an admission that 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive for banned substances before the Tokyo Olympics.

The head of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) demanded on Monday an investigation into the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) handling of 23 positive tests by Chinese swimmers and welcomed the global body’s threat of legal action.

During a nearly two-hour Zoom call with the media Wada fired back at critics and provided detailed explanation of its decision not to pursue sanctions on the swimmers, who tested positive for trimetazidine (TMZ) months before the Covid-delayed Tokyo Olympics began in July 2021.

The swimmers escaped punishment after an investigation by Chinese authorities ruled the adverse analytical findings, or AAFs, were the result of being inadvertently exposed to the drug through contamination.

A report determined that all the swimmers who tested positive were staying at the same hotel where traces of heart medication TMZ were found in the kitchen, the extraction unit above the hall and drainage units.

There was no explanation for how the TMZ found its way into the hotel.

China’s 30-member swimming team won six medals at the Tokyo Games, including three golds.

Doping

USADA chief Travis Tygart at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 11 March 2013. (Photo: Buda Mendes / Getty Images For Laureus)

“The whole situation is a tragedy for clean athletes around the world,” USADA chief Travis Tygart told Reuters. “They should have announced the violation and they should have disqualified the athletes.

“They should have just provisionally suspended (them). Clean athletes look at this system and are just frustrated and upset that a number of athletes at this level can test positive for a substance like this and you can have (China) state security create this excuse and then that gets signed off on by the global regulator.

“Athletes are calling for a review and an investigation and we have to get to the bottom of how this possibly happened.”

The New York Times also reported on Monday that the White House was calling for an inquiry into the Chinese swimmers and would bring it up when anti-doping officials meet in Washington this week.

No independent investigation

Wada conceded it conducted no on-the-ground investigation of its own and instead relied on a China doping agency (Chinada) report, then employed their own scientific experts and external legal counsel to test the contamination theory.

With help from leaders of its science and legal affairs departments and investigative unit, Wada presented a detailed step-by-step analysis of how it reached its conclusion, but Tygart remained sceptical.

“We really appreciate Wada opening up and providing some information about their process,” said Tygart. “It was unfortunately very unsatisfying and actually opened up a whole load of questions… that need to be answered and actually investigated.

“They (Wada) have effectively flipped strict liability on its head.

“They’ve had an authoritarian government with its secret security system provide a defence that they really don’t question or challenge.”

Wada and USADA appear on a collision course over the case, with Tygart calling ruling a “potential cover-up” and Wada threatening legal action.

If Wada chooses to go that route, Tygart said bring it on.

“I would welcome it because it would be a lot of fun to see the discovery between the emails and the discussion why they decided not to follow the rules and cover this situation up,” Tygart said.

“I had a board member one time say if you’re not being sued or being threatened to be sued, then you’re not doing your job. That’s part of the job.

“Obviously, it doesn’t make anybody happy, it’s a diversion from the actual facts of the case.

“That’s what Wada should be spending its money on and actually doing a real investigation, not having lawyers review whether they should sue me or media outlets that they are threatening to do.”

doping

President of the World Anti-Doping Agency Witold Bańka speaks during the opening of the Wada Symposium for Anti-Doping Organisations at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 14 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Laurent Gillieron)

Damage control

Wada was in full damage control mode on Monday, firing back at criticism over its handling of the situation and the allegations of a cover-up.

In a show of unity, Wada forcefully responded to the attacks during the call with the media that featured leaders from the agency’s science and legal affairs department, investigative unit and president, Witold Bańka, who said the global anti-doping body stood by its decisions and given the circumstances and evidence would do the same again.

“At every stage Wada followed all due processes and investigated every lead and line of inquiry in this matter,” said Bańka. “If we had to do it over again we would do exactly the same thing.

“We carefully reviewed the decision of Chinada from every perspective, we interrogated every piece of evidence and gathered further information.

“In this particular case we followed the process and we don’t see room for improvement when it comes to this particular process.”

Wada said it was notified in June 2021 of Chinada’s decision to accept that the swimmers returned AAFs, after inadvertently being exposed to the drug through contamination.

The global anti-doping body took the opportunity on Monday to go through the case, outlining in detail how it consulted scientific experts and external legal counsel to test the contamination theory presented by Chinada.

Fluctuating negative and positive results were determined not to be compatible with deliberate ingestion or microdosing.

Chinada ruled the positive tests were the result of environmental food contamination and decided not to move forward, notifying Wada of the decision.

doping China

American swimmer and Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps (left) and US Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart testify during a hearing before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on 28 February 2017. The hearing focused on ‘Ways to Improve and Strengthen the International Anti-Doping System’. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The case file was made available to the Wada science department which determined that the contamination scenario was not only plausible but that there was no concrete element to call it into question.

Legal experts who were consulted agreed an appeal to the Court for Arbitration in Sports was not warranted.

Asked why there was no provisional suspension, Wada reminded that under the code it has no authority to do so.

‘Handled diligently’

World Aquatics, the sport’s global body formerly known as FINA, said it was confident the positive tests were handled “diligently and professionally” while the International Testing Agency (ITA) confirmed on Monday that it was not aware of any cover-up.

“For the sake of clarity and transparency, it is pointed out that since the Chinada decision in 2021, the ITA has not come across any reliable evidence that would suggest that a cover-up or a manipulation of the anti-doping process took place,” ITA said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: World anti-doping body slaps six-month suspension on SA’s only testing lab

While detailed and thorough in its explanations, Wada’s answers are unlikely to sway critics, who question how the body can so easily accept the findings of an investigation conducted internally by China, a country with a tainted history when it comes to doping, particularly in the pool.

Tygart for one is not satisfied and wants those burying positive tests to be “held accountable to the fullest extent of the rules and law”.

Wada has responded by threatening legal action against anyone accusing it of a cover-up.

“What is clear is that some comments that have been made which suggested a cover-up of doping cases for political reasons couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Ross Wenzel, Wada general counsel.

“They clearly have the potential to damage Wada’s reputation, therefore it is something we will have to go through with a fine-tooth comb and take whatever action is necessary.” Reuters/DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hari Seldon says:

    Why would trimetadizine be in the hotel kitchen? It’s hardly prescribed ever. And why would it be all over the kitchen. It comes as a pill and not as a powder you mess around with before ingesting. Someone either deliberately contaminated the area to further the chinese claim or they were using it in powder form to dose food or drink provided to athletes to enhance their performance, or someone was spiking their food/drink so that the urine sample came up positive. Seems like a WADA coverup.

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