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20/04/24 | 7:17 pm

Top Chinese swimmers competed, won medals in Tokyo Olympics despite failing drug tests: Report

As many as 23 top Chinese swimmers tested positive for a prohibited substance seven months before their participation in the Tokyo Olympics, as per a report. They were allowed to escape scrutiny and compete at the top sporting event following secret clearance from top Chinese officials. The report added that the global authority responsible for policing drugs in sports chose not to intervene.

Several athletes who tested positive, including almost half of the swimming team that China sent to the Olympics, secured medals, including three golds. Many of these swimmers, including two-time gold medalist Zhang Yufei, still compete for China and are expected to play in the Paris Olympics this year from July to August.

The story of positive tests started to unfold a year into the Covid-19 pandemic when anti-doping authorities feared that travel bans and closed borders would make cheating and doping easier, reduce opportunities for testing at international events, and led to heavy reliance on national anti-doping authorities.

About two dozen positive tests of these swimmers were collected during an event held over four days from December 2020 and January 2021 in Shijiazhuang. The meet was organized by China’s national swimming body and was supposed to be a warm-up for 200 of the nation’s athletes, who were all training in seclusion during the pandemic for the Olympics. At the meet, Chinada tested the top two finishers from each event and a couple of others from the other 29 races.

Samples are supposed to be sent to an accredited laboratory, analyzed, and reported to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and World Aquatics. But for unknown reasons, these tests were not reported to the computer management system tracking testing of athletes until March 15, 2021, the report noted. Chinada said that WADA let them freeze the tests for a month after they were collected due to the pandemic.

Later, as per a 61-page investigative report by Chinada, a total of 60 tests were done on 39 swimmers. 28 of these tests were positive, including 23 of the meet’s competitors, who all tested positive for trimetazidine. This drug helps in raising stamina, endurance, and hastening recovery time. It is also difficult to detect because of how it clears through the body.

China acknowledged these positive tests in a report by its anti-doping regulator and said that swimmers ingested the prohibited substances unknowingly and in tiny amounts and consequently, no action was warranted against them.

An examination by The New York Times found that this episode, previously unreported, divided the anti-doping world, where China’s record has been a flashpoint. American officials and other experts said that the athletes should have been suspended or identified publicly and suggested that Chinese sports officials, swimming’s international governing body, World Aquatics, and the World Anti-Doping Agency failed in their duties.

The aforementioned authorities did not act despite a small email exchange between an anti-doping official from China and a top world swimming official, which indicated that a violation of rules may have taken place and would have to be acknowledged publicly at least.

Even as other national and international anti-doping officials provided WADA with intelligence inputs suggesting a cover-up and doping by Chinese swimmers, WADA did not hold them accountable due to “a lack of any credible evidence” to challenge China’s version of events. WADA also defended its decision to take action and called the criticism ‘unsubstantiated.’

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) learned of these positive tests, the Chinese rationale of clearing the athletes of their wrongdoing, and WADA’s inaction.

Federal investigators recently took steps to learn more about what occurred. A spokesman for the FBI, however, declined to comment on the news report. Any inquiry by the American authorities would come with a powerful new tool — a law passed in 2020 giving the Justice Department powers to criminally prosecute attempts to corrupt international sporting events via doping, irrespective of where they are taking place.

In a statement issued as a response to a question from the NYT, the US Anti-Doping Agency accused WADA of failing in its mission of checking doping.

“This appears to be a devastating stab in the back of clean athletes and a deep betrayal of all the athletes who compete fairly and follow the rules,” the US anti-doping agency’s chief executive officer, Travis T. Tygart, was quoted as saying by the New York Times. He acknowledged that WADA was briefed on allegations of doping among Chinese swimmers on multiple occasions since 2020.

“All of those with dirty hands in burying these positives and suppressing the voices of courageous whistleblowers must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the rules and law,” the statement read.




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Last Updated: 22nd May 2024