Olympics: USADA wants investigation into China swimming, welcomes WADA lawsuit

April 23, 2024 - 7:00 PM
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A view shows a swimming pool at the Olympic Aquatics Centre (CAO) multifunctional venue for the 2024 Paris Games construction site which is under the management of the "Metropole Grand Paris" in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, December 28, 2023. (Reuters/Benoit Tessier/File Photo)

The head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency 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 that 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.

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

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 defences 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,” said Tygart.

“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.”

— Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar