Team USA Athletes Comission

In a letter to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Team USA Athletes’ Commission demands a “truly independent” investigation on the handling of the Chinese swimmers scandal, while the UNI Global Union-based association underlines the agency’s “systemic failures, need for  reform”.

A joint statement between the USA Swimming Athletes’ Advisory Council and the Team USA Athletes’ Commission to Rahul Gupta, the director of the federal government’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, intensified the pressure on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), after its president, Witold Banka, argued last week that its integrity and reputation was under attack. “In recent days, WADA has been unfairly accused of serious bias in favour of China by not appealing the CHINADA case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. We continue to reject these false accusations," Banka said.

The Americans begged to differ. “Once again, we are heading into another Olympic and Paralympic games with serious concerns about whether the playing field is level and the competition fair,” the athletes wrote.

It was far from the only swipe at the agency that is supposed to police international sport, which has been under fire from athletes, federations and national agencies since the New York Times and German broadcaster ARD first reported that 23 Chinese swimmers had tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug trimetazidine (TMZ) ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. However, no sanctions were imposed after WADA accepted the Chinese authorities' argument that the case was due to food contamination, and the athletes were allowed to compete and win medals for their country.

Since then, WADA has been trying to provide more transparency in the case and last week announced its intention to appoint an independent prosecutor to review its handling. All of the swimmers that tested positive allegedly used the same prescribed heart medication, the reports said.

The organisation also said it would send a "compliance audit team" to China to "assess the current state of the country's anti-doping programme". The unit will be led by the local anti-doping agency CHINADA, a decision that United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) considered “interesting”. Its president, Travis Tygart, has been openly critical of WADA’s handling of the positive tests and originally described the situation as a "potential cover-up". Gupta, however, called WADA’s appointment of veteran Swiss prosecutor Eric Cottier, charged with reviewing the case “an important first step in addressing the recent doping allegations.”

The World Players Association issued its own statement on Tuesday, in which it expressed its concern over the allegations of a state-sponsored doping conspiracy, emphasized WADA’s “systemic failures and need for fundamental reform” and asked for an independent and thorough investigation.“Long standing systemic issues have plagued the anti-doping movement. Athletes have faced unjust processes and sanctions, while officials have not been held to account, and there has been a lack of meaningful athlete involvement in the global anti-doping system. The response to this scandal must address fundamental root causes, not just symptoms, if WADA is to assert any legitimacy as a steadfast regulator of global anti-doping policy,” said Matthew Graham, Head of World Players.

The World Players Association is part of UNI Global Union.
The World Players Association is part of UNI Global Union.

As for the USA Swimming Athletes’ Advisory Council and the Team USA Athletes’ Commission, the two key American athlete groups specifically addressed Gupta, a WADA executive committee member who has a direct line to the government officials who also have a say on American funding of WADA’s annual budget, a point of contention in the past. “As athletes, we have to trust WADA to set and enforce standards that will ensure fair play and protect our rights. WADA’s failure to follow its own rules and procedures in the wake of the positive tests of these 23 Chinese athletes has broken this trust,” the statement said.

Cottier, who served as attorney general of the canton of Vaud in Switzerland for 17 years before retiring in 2022 and was previously a judge, has been asked to present his findings within two months. This is the time frame set to shed light on the matter with the intention of resolving the case before the start of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The team travelling to China will also include "independent auditors from the anti-doping community at large".

This week, WADA confirmed its decision to consider Tunisia’s anti-doping efforts as “non compliant” with international guidelines since last November. The Tunisian National Anti-Doping Organization now stands with the Angola National Olympic Committee, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency and the International Fitness and Bodybuilding Federation as the four currently non-compliant Code Signatories.