Home News Doping regulator aware of Chinese swimmer’s positive test

Doping regulator aware of Chinese swimmer’s positive test


Disclosed in April this year 23 Chinese elite swimmers tested positive China and the world’s anti-doping agency have strongly defended the decision to allow the Chinese team to compete in the 2021 Olympics after they were banned for doping months before the last Summer Olympics. They insist the swimmers did not dope.

But at the same time they made those statements, China and anti-doping agencies knew that three of the 23 swimmers had tested positive for another type of doping several years ago but had not been publicly identified and banned as a result, according to a secret report reviewed by The New York Times.

In both cases, China claimed the swimmers had unknowingly taken banned drugs, an explanation viewed with considerable skepticism by some anti-doping experts. The two incidents have heightened long-standing suspicions among rivals that China’s doping is a pattern and that the global authority, WADA, is unwilling or unable to deal with it.

The three Chinese athletes who tested positive for doping in 2016 and 2017 were no ordinary swimmers: Two of them went on to win gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and the third is now a world record holder. All three are expected to compete for medals again in Paris in July.

Anti-doping experts say that if Chinese officials and the World Anti-Doping Agency had followed existing rules in the event of two sets of positive drug tests, the two athletes would have been identified publicly and subject to further scrutiny and possibly even disqualified from the 2021 Olympics, which opens in Paris next month.

“The athletes we spoke to were appalled by the anti-doping system and WADA,” said Rob Kohler, director general of Global Athlete, an organization that works for athletes’ rights. “Athletes are expected to strictly follow anti-doping rules, but the organization responsible for monitoring them is not doing so.”

In a statement to The New York Times, the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed that three Chinese swimmers tested positive for “trace amounts” of the banned steroid clenbuterol. The agency blamed the 2016 and 2017 incidents on food contamination, which it called “widespread.” His lengthy response The report was emailed to The Times at the same time as it was published online.

“The contamination problem exists and the anti-doping community is aware of it,” said Olivier Niggli, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“There are three athletes involved,” he added. “They are all high-level swimmers and in a country where clenbuterol contamination of meat is common, they are tested very frequently, so it is not surprising that they are probably among hundreds of athletes who have been found to have trace amounts of clenbuterol.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency said the levels of clenbuterol in the athletes’ systems were “very low, ranging from six to 50 times below the minimum reported limit.” But neither the agency nor Negley explained why they did not publicly disclose how much clenbuterol was in the swimmers’ systems.

Swimming’s global governing body, World Swimming, also confirmed on Friday that three Chinese swimmers had previously been tested positive for clenbuterol.

“We can confirm that Chinese athletes tested positive for clenbuterol in 2016 and 2017,” the organization said in a statement. The organization, formerly known as FINA, said records of positive tests were found in its archives from different periods of its management team.

“If there is any information that suggests these cases should have been handled differently then we would of course review it very carefully,” the organization said, adding that it expected to publish the results of the anti-doping audit in the coming weeks, including “clear guidance on how similar cases should be handled in the future.”

Details of the positive tests in 2016 and 2017 were contained in a confidential report written by China Anti-Doping Agency, used to approve the 23 swimmers for the 2021 competition and submitted to WADA at the time.

China argued in its report that 23 swimmers unknowingly took a heart drug that somehow ended up in meals prepared for them at a domestic competition. The theory was based on the fact that Chinese investigators found trace amounts of the drug, trimetazidine, or TMZ, in the kitchen of the swimmers’ hotel two months after they tested positive.

TMZ can help athletes increase their strength and endurance, and speed up their recovery time, but it belongs to a class of performance-enhancing drugs that carries the harshest penalties.

To support its argument that contamination may indeed have occurred, the Chinese document cited other “mass incidents” in which 12 Chinese water polo players and 13 other athletes were unknowingly contaminated with banned substances through food they consumed. Among the earlier cases, China said, were incidents in 2016 and 2017 when three top swimmers tested positive for clenbuterol.

But the Chinese’s citation of these early cases only raises more questions about their own history of handling positive test results.

Under established procedures for such testing at the time, even if results were determined to be due to meat contamination, China and WADA were required to identify the athlete and investigate the source of the contamination. There is no indication that those steps were followed in any of the cases documented by China.

Clenbuterol has been favored by athletes for years because it can help reduce weight and promote muscle growth. Because of its effectiveness in enhancing athletic performance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has placed it in the most severe category of drugs, which can include a four-year ban.

It is also used in some parts of the world to promote growth in livestock. This has led to contamination cases of athletes eating meat from animals treated with the drug – a phenomenon detailed in a report by the China Anti-Doping Agency. Still available on the WADA website.

China’s Anti-Doping Agency did not respond to questions from The Times.

WADA, whose job is to protect against countries that fail to police doping in their athletes, believed Chinese officials in 2021 that the 23 swimmers had done nothing wrong. Rather than conducting its own investigation in China, WADA allowed the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency, the Chinese anti-doping agency, to conduct tests on the athletes, bypassing rules and procedures that other agencies must follow.

WADA did not take action, citing coronavirus restrictions, which paved the way for China to send 23 swimmers to the 2021 Summer Olympics when nearly half of the Chinese team tested positive, according to TMZ. At the Olympics, Chinese swimmers who tested positive won medals in five events, Includes three gold medals.

After the news broke, both WADA and swimming’s governing body announced reviews of their handling of the case. But that has only raised new concerns. WADA, already under fire from athletes and coaches, is now being forced to respond to allegations about its hand-picked prosecutors. Lack of independenceMeanwhile, World Water Sports Facing charges A member of the organization’s anti-doping advisory panel said the organization had been “inexplicably and forcibly excluded from the review.”

Amid the outcry, WADA officials sought to defend themselves in a series of public and private briefings, including conference calls with reporters, forums with hundreds of athletes and hastily arranged video calls with members of its board of directors.

In a conference call, WADA general counsel Ross Wenzel looked directly into a computer camera and told board members that Chinese swimmers were not doping.

While it’s unclear how much Wenzel knew about the details in the China Anti-Doping Agency report shared with WADA, he and other agency officials have repeatedly supported their decision to clear the swimmers, pointing to a powerful statistic: In the three years before the 2021 incident, no Chinese swimmers tested positive for doping, despite them being “subjected to significant and even large-scale testing,” Wenzel told board members.

At meetings in April and early May, Mr. Wenzel did not share swimmers’ doping records before 2018. But WADA — which received the secret report from China in 2021 — had known for years that China had processed tests for three swimmers who tested positive for clenbuterol in 2016 and 2017.

China even named the three athletes in its report: Wang Shun, who became only the second Chinese male swimmer to win an individual gold medal in swimming at the Tokyo Olympics; Qin HaiyangHe is the current world record holder in the men’s 200m breaststroke; Yang Junxuan was only 14 or 15 years old when he tested positive for doping in 2017, but later won gold and silver medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

April, Yang Set a Chinese national record Women’s 100m freestyle.

As WADA noted in its statement on Friday, the problem of positive tests for clenbuterol contamination eventually became so widespread that WADA changed its guidelines in 2019: The drug would still be banned and included in the most heavily penalized category, but the threshold for testing positive was raised.

However, under the rules and procedures of the World Anti-Doping Agency at the time, athletes who claimed to have been contaminated by clenbuterol had to identify the source of the contaminated food they consumed and provide evidence that the food was indeed contaminated. This was a high threshold and many athletes failed to do so – often resulting in multi-year bans.

Yet even if Chinese athletes can prove they are contaminated, the country’s anti-doping agency is required to publicly disclose their positive tests in compliance with World Anti-Doping Agency rules under rules implemented in 2016 and 2017. If athletes test positive during competition, their results are supposed to be expunged from official records.

However, in the case of the three Chinese swimmers, there is no indication that the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency followed these regulations, nor is there any public record proving that the athletes tested positive for drugs.

According to China’s timeline, the Chinese swimming team tested positive for drugs in 2016 and 2017, and earlier than that, the Chinese swimming team had been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs with impunity.

In 2016, The Times of London quoted a Chinese whistleblower as saying: Reported Chinese authorities covered up five positive doping tests because they did not want to disclose them before the trials for that year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The day after the Times article was published, China’s anti-doping agency publicly acknowledged that six swimmers had tested positive for banned drugs. Three of them had been found to have taken clenbuterol six months earlier, in 2015. China declined to identify the other drugs or to name any of the athletes.

At the time, WADA was also embroiled in another scandal involving Russian government-backed doping programThe agency responded immediately, calling the allegations of positive tests in China “very serious” and vowing to deal with the matter “head on.” But no formal action has been taken yet.

Mr. Kohler, of Global Athlete, said the prospect of discovering more hidden positives and some of the athletes competing for medals in Paris would be almost unthinkable for other Olympians.

“It would take athlete confidence in the system to an all-time low, and I don’t think that’s possible,” he said.

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