Global Athlete disputes WADA's independent report. GA

No rest for the World Anti-Doping Agency on the Chinese doping probe as Global Athlete and FairSport issue a joint statement following the independent prosecutor’s findings, which USADA says “leaves most critical questions unanswered”.

Eric Cottier’s investigation into the handling of the 23 positive tests found in China’s swimming team prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was delivered on Tuesday and labelled "indisputably reasonable" by the global policing body, but the sentiment was not mutual; on American soil specifically, athlete-led pressure groups profoundly disagreed with the results and the United States Anti-Doping Agency considered the effort “futile”.

“The WADA report issued by Mr. Cottier today provides athletes and the world with some additional information, but unfortunately, still leaves most of the critical questions unanswered when it comes to WADA allowing China to sweep 23 positive tests for a potent performance-enhancing drug under the carpet,” USADA answered back in its own statement.

In April, the New York Times and German broadcaster ARD reported that the swimmers had tested positive for trimetazidine at a domestic meet in late 2020 and early 2021. It was determined by Chinese anti-doping authorities that they ingested the substance unwittingly from contaminated food, WADA accepted the argument and did not sanction the athletes, some of whom went on to win medals at the Tokyo Games and have again been selected for the upcoming Paris Olympics.

Cottier’s report argued that "there is nothing in the file to suggest that WADA showed favouritism or deference, or in any way favoured the 23 swimmers who tested positive for TMZ."

USADA president Travis Tygart had foreseen that the outcome of Cottier’s report would not align with the national agency’s vision and had deemed the prosecutor’s investigation, "more of a self-serving check-the-box type of exercise" even before the results were made public. "We were ultimately glad that WADA was forced to have an independent review," said Tygart in a video message to US athletes on Monday. "We, of course, were disappointed that the very staff whose decisions in this process were at question were the ones to set the terms of reference for this review. We have seen in anti-doping and other sport movement situations whitewash type reports when they hire these independent people."

The relationship after The New York Times broke the news back in April has been a contentious one between WADA and American officials and even law enforcement, as US Congress recently held hearings on the matter with swimming icon Michael Phelps criticising the international agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation possibly stepping in. "Days ago, the international federation for swimming acknowledged a federal law enforcement investigation into this situation," Tygart reminded the athletes. "Let's hope that if this WADA review doesn't get to the bottom of it that then that reported US investigation will ultimately hold the organizations accountable to the extent that they can."

SafeSport and Global Athlete also considered that the report addressing allegations of a WADA cover-up “was inherently flawed from the outset due to its limited scope and independence.” Both entities insisted that Cottier’s conclusions “continue to support WADA’s narrative of no wrongdoing and fail to provide the necessary transparency to effectively debunk this case.”

The US-based groups argued that the report did not provide sufficient evidence to support Cottier’s findings and conclusions after failing to transparently share any information and documentation from the China Anti-Doping Agency. “This lack of transparency is extremely disconcerting amid the widespread distrust in WADA and the global anti-doping system,” the statement concluded.

The global agency’s president, Witold Banka, insisted that the incessant criticism was due to geopolitical tensions, considered allegations of a cover-up by some US individuals "disgusting” and threatened legal action. "I am very sad that people tried to accuse us of really terrible things. If this case had happened in another country than China, it would not have brought attention," he considered.

USADA fired back by stating that the scientific basis and data that WADA used to conclude the case remained unclear. "This is unsurprising since WADA itself handpicked the investigator and set the extremely limited scope of the investigation, preventing a meaningful review. Given its cozy role in the creation of the investigation, the world also has to wonder if WADA was able to see and even sanitize the report before its release," Tygart criticised. "From the beginning, our goal has been uncovering the truth and the facts of this situation on behalf of clean athletes. 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."

While the US Department of Justice summoned the executive director of World Aquatics, Brent Nowicki, to testify in the case last week, Cottier’s report stated that WADA’s chances of successful appeal to the Cout of Arbitration for Sport were relatively low and indicated that financial restraints were a contributing factor for not appealing the CHINADA case.

“It is not WADA’s role to calculate success, it’s WADA role to ensure the Code is followed regardless of the calculated risk. Instead of protecting clean sport with an appeal, WADA is spending resources engaging a leading law firm to protect its members from potentially being subpoenaed in the USA and on an internal investigation to determine where the leak originated,” USADA pointed out. “Today’s futile report reinforces what athletes have been requesting for years – reform and restructuring of the anti-doping movement and its leadership. As we saw with the Russian doping scandal, it was investigative journalism that uncovered the truth – now, against the hopes of WADA and World Aquatics, the questions and media attention of this case will not cease until transparency, truth and justice are enacted.”