Tuesday, July 23, 2024

WADA cleared in Chinese swimmers case: investigation | The Express Tribune


The World Anti-Doping Agency did not show “favouritism” towards China in the case of 23 Chinese swimmers who were cleared to compete after testing positive for a banned drug, an independent report said on Tuesday.

In April, the New York Times and German broadcaster ARD reported that the swimmers had tested positive for trimetazidine (TMZ) at a domestic competition in late 2020 and early 2021.

It was determined by Chinese anti-doping authorities they ingested the substance unwittingly from tainted food at their hotel and no action against them was warranted.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accepted the argument of the Chinese authorities and did not sanction the swimmers, 11 of whom have been selected for the Paris Olympics which start this month.

The case caused a global uproar, with US anti-doping authorities accusing WADA of a cover-up.

As a result, WADA set up an independent investigation overseen by retired Swiss prosecutor Eric Cottier, whose interim findings were released on Tuesday.

“There is nothing in the file — which is complete — to suggest that WADA showed favouritism or deference, or in any way favoured the 23 swimmers who tested positive for TMZ,” the report said.

WADA president Witold Banka welcomed the findings, reiterating claims that criticism of the agency’s handling of the case were due to “geopolitical” tensions.

Banka, 39, said there had been “disgusting allegations about a cover-up by some individuals in the US”, and added that the agency was considering legal action against its critics.

WADA’s fiercest critic has been Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), who has claimed there was a cover-up and that the body needed reforming.

“I am very sad that people tried to accuse us of really terrible things,” said Banka.

“If this case had happened in another country than China, it would not have brought attention.”

Publication of Cottier’s report however did little to assuage the criticism, with USADA chief Tygart saying in a statement that “most of the critical questions” surrounding the case remained unanswered.

“This is unsurprising since WADA itself handpicked the investigator and set the extremely limited scope of the investigation, preventing a meaningful review,” Tygart said.

USADA said the question of how the drug involved in the case, TMZ, entered the hotel kitchen where food was purportedly contaminated, remained a mystery.

USADA also said the scientific basis and data that WADA used to conclude the case involved contamination remained unclear.

“From the beginning, our goal has been uncovering the truth and the facts of this situation on behalf of clean athletes,” Tygart said.

“Until WADA leadership shares that goal and stops spewing vitriol at any voice of dissent, there will be no trust in the global anti-doping system.”

The US Department of Justice is probing WADA’s handling of the case and has summoned the executive director of World Aquatics (WA), Brent Nowicki, to testify in the case.

One of the 11 Chinese swimmers set to appear at the Paris Olympics is reigning men’s 200 metres medley champion Wang Shun.

That event will feature France’s strong gold medal hope Leon Marchand.

When it was put to Banka that the home crowd might react angrily if Marchand lost to his Chinese rival, he said it would be an “unfair” reaction.

“Coming back to the outcomes of the investigation, there is no evidence that they were guilty, so it is unfair (to accuse anyone),” he said.

“Until you have evidence to challenge it, you cannot accuse people of doping.

“Legally there is no evidence to challenge the contamination theory.”

The contamination defence has in the past often failed to be sufficient in individual doping cases.

However, Banka said this case of mass contamination would prompt a wider debate.

“We have to have a serious discussion about contamination cases, because I see more and more contamination cases, especially in the US, I have to say.”

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