Sunday, June 16, 2024

Chinese doping case sparks unusually harsh spat between global and US drug-fighting agencies

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World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Swiss Director General Olivier Niggli delivers a speech at the opening of the two-day annual WADA symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 12. AFP-Yonhap

Revelations of positive doping tests for nearly two dozen Chinese swimmers that went unpunished sparked an intense flurry of accusations and legal threats between the World Anti-Doping Agency and the head of the U.S. drug-fighting organization, who has long been one of WADA’s fiercest critics.

WADA said Saturday it was turning to legal counsel to address a statement released by Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who said WADA and anti-doping authorities in China swept positive tests “under the carpet by failing to fairly and evenly follow the global rules that apply to everyone else in the world.”

The allegation was made after WADA acknowledged it had cleared 23 Chinese swimmers who had tested positive for a banned heart medication to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 after agreeing with that country’s authorities that the samples had been contaminated.

WADA defended its process, and said it acted in good faith and according to due process when it decided not to challenge the Chinese explanation for the positives. It then turned its attention to Tygart, saying his comments were politically motivated and that it “is astonished by the outrageous, completely false and defamatory remarks” he made.

WADA pointed out that USADA has, several times over the years, accepted “similar conclusions of contamination involving a number of U.S. athletes” and that Tygart “should realize that it is not only American athletes who can fall victim to situations of no-fault contamination.”

Tygart came back with another statement, noting the difference between USADA’s handling of contamination cases and this one. The Chinese case involves a medication called trimetazidine (TMZ) that was also at the center of the case that led to the suspension of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.

TMZ is a well-known prescription medication for people with heart disease. It is known to help athletes improve stamina and decrease recovery times. Its use comes with the most stringent penalties under anti-doping rules.

Tygart said USADA’s previous contamination cases have not involved TMZ.

“And, most importantly, in all contamination cases that we have proven, we provisionally suspended the athlete, disqualified the results, found a violation, and issued an announcement as required by the rules,” he said.

None of that happened in the case of the Chinese swimmers, whose cases weren’t publicly revealed until reports by The New York Times and Daily Telegraph in Sydney surfaced Saturday.

In explaining its handling of the case, WADA conceded there were difficulties in conducting investigations in China because of restrictions there due to a COVID-19-related lockdown that was in place in early 2021 when the positive tests were uncovered. It said it consulted with lawyers who advised that appealing the case was not warranted.

The disagreement is the latest chapter in years of sparring between WADA and Tygart, who has long felt WADA did not go tough enough on Russia after its government-sponsored doping scheme at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 was uncovered.

Another undercurrent of this case is the chance it could wind up in American court. Under a U.S. law enacted in 2020 that was widely criticized by WADA , federal prosecutors can bring charges in doping cases that show a conspiracy to taint an international event involving U.S. athletes.

“All of those with dirty hands in burying positive tests and suppressing the voices of courageous whistleblowers must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the rules and law,” Tygart said.

But WADA was clearly thinking of different legal options when it shot back at Tygart.

“It should be noted that following Mr. Tygart’s false allegations, WADA has no choice but to refer this matter to its legal counsel for further action,” the WADA news release concluded, with the paragraph written in bold, black print. (AP)

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