World anti-doping agency under fire for Tokyo Olympics “cover-up”

23 Chinese swimmers failed drug tests before the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, which U.S. anti-doping authorities say was kept secret.
Global anti-doping police accused of keeping failed results of 23 Chinese athletes secret.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has confirmed 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive for a low dose of a banned substance before the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

The statement was triggered by an investigation by multiple international news organisations. The U.S. anti-doping agency now alleges the WADA mishandled its investigation and covered it up.

The WADA has hit back at those claims, accusing the U.S. of a “politically motivated” attack.

What happened?

Organisers delayed the 2020 Tokyo summer Olympics by a year due to COVID-19 restrictions. In the lead-up, 23 Chinese swimmers were found to have a small amount of a banned substance in their systems. This wasn’t public at the time.

Trimetazidine showed up in their drug tests. The substance is normally used to treat cardiac conditions by enhancing blood flow to the heart.

The WADA lists trimetazidine as a banned substance in elite sports.

In June 2021, a month before the Tokyo Olympics kicked off, China’s anti-doping agency told the WADA that the athletes had been “inadvertently” exposed to the substance earlier in the year.

An “inadvertent” exposure means the athletes had consumed something contaminated with trimetazidine without their knowledge. This could include eating food laced with the drug.

Tokyo Olympics

The WADA wasn’t able to fully investigate the claims due to strict COVID restrictions in China at the time.

Following the reports, the WADA conducted its own testing. After completing this, it concluded the athletes were not at fault.

Additionally, it said “it was not in a position to disprove the possibility that contamination was the source” of the positive tests.

All 23 athletes competed in the Tokyo Olympics.

After that, some went on to win gold.

Media probe

Over the weekend, The New York Times, German TV network ARD, and News Corp papers in Australia alleged the WADA didn’t properly investigate doping of Chinese athletes.

The New York Times and ARD cited a report from Chinese authorities. The report said the 23 athletes had attended an event at a hotel before testing positive.

Chinese officials claimed the hotel kitchen was contaminated with trimetazidine, leading to the athletes “ingesting” small amounts of the substance. They did not explain how the drug got into the kitchen.

U.S. anger

U.S. anti-doping agency CEO Travis Tygart said the WADA “swept [test results] under the carpet by failing to fairly and evenly follow the global rules that apply to everyone else in the world”.

“Our hearts ache for the athletes from the countries who were impacted by this potential cover-up and who may have lost podium moments.

“They have been deeply and painfully betrayed by the system.”

WADA response

The WADA accused the media reports of being “misleading”. It “carefully reviewed” China’s claims that the athletes unknowingly consumed trimetazidine before the Olympics.

It defended the investigation, saying some athletes provided multiple samples over several days, some of which changed between negative and positive.

Separately, the WADA said Tygart’s accusations it had covered up the positive test results from China left the organisation “astonished”.

It described his claims as “outrageous” and “completely false”. The WADA noted some U.S. athletes have previously failed their drug tests, but were later found to not have been intentionally doping.

“Mr Tygart should realise that it is not only American athletes who can fall victim to situations of no-fault contamination,” the WADA said.

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