Saturday, May 25, 2024

Anti-doping watchdog asks Swiss prosecutor to review its handling of Chinese Olympic swimming case

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GENEVA — Heavily criticized for its secretive oversight of positive tests by 23 Chinese swimmers before the Tokyo Olympics, the World Anti-Doping Agency on Thursday appointed a veteran Swiss prosecutor to review how it handled the cases.

The Montreal-based doping watchdog said Eric Cottier will be an independent prosecutor “to conduct a thorough review of WADA’s handling of the matter.”

Cottier was attorney general of Vaud — the home canton (state) of the International Olympic Committee and swimming’s governing body World Aquatics — for 17 years until his retirement in December 2022.

The prosecutor is expected to deliver a report, WADA said, “within two months” — just weeks before the opening of the Paris Olympics where some of the same Chinese swimmers could compete.

Three of the 23 swimmers later won gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics where American and British swimmers took the silver medals. The Games were held in 2021.

It was unclear if Cottier will travel to China to question people involved in the 2021 investigation.

One of WADA’s top critics, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, put out a news release calling the announcement “self-serving” and questioning the independence of the investigation.

In this March 18, 2019, file photo, then-Poland’s Sports Minister Witold Banka, now head of WADA, the gestures during an interview in Warsaw, Poland. WADA said Saturday, April 19, 2024, 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.” Credit: AP/Czarek Sokolowski

“By calling this an ‘independent’ investigation, WADA leadership is trying to pull the wool over our eyes,” the release said. “Instead of WADA’s hand-picked lawyer with a limited and self-serving scope of review, the world’s athletes deserve a truly independent review commission with a wide scope of review.”

Cottier’s report will go to the executive committee of WADA. Its vice president Yang Yang is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in speed skating from China and a former IOC member.

Investigations by the New York Times and German broadcaster ARD published over the weekend detailed how top swimmers from China tested positive for the same banned heart medication in January 2021 at a national meet about seven months before the Tokyo Games.

Chinese state authorities later explained to WADA it found evidence weeks after of contamination, including in spice containers, in the kitchen of a hotel where the swimmers stayed. It is still unclear how traces of the medication trimetazidine (TMZ) got into the kitchen.

In this March 18, 2019, file photo, then-Poland's Sports Minister...

In this March 18, 2019, file photo, then-Poland’s Sports Minister Witold Banka, now head of WADA, the gestures during an interview in Warsaw, Poland. WADA said Saturday, April 19, 2024, 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.” Credit: AP/Czarek Sokolowski

WADA accepted the explanation and the Chinese anti-doping agency rulings that the swimmers were not to blame in 2021 when its own investigators could not travel to China during a lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The swimmers never served provisional suspensions during the investigation and their positive tests were never made public until the past week.

The Times and ARD revelations have angered athletes, swim federations and anti-doping officials worldwide who suspect favorable treatment for China, which has paid WADA almost $2 million in extra funding in recent years.

Throughout 2021, China was working closely with the IOC on the challenging preparations to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022. They were successfully staged in lockdown conditions.

WADA leaders insisted at a 90-minute news conference Monday they had followed their rules and due process in world sports.

“WADA’s integrity and reputation is under attack,” its president Witold Bańka, a former 400-meter runner from Poland, said Thursday in a statement.

Banka said WADA was “unfairly accused of bias in favor of China” by not appealing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne to challenge decisions that cleared the swimmers.

The agency said Cottier “will be granted full and unfettered access to all of WADA’s files and documents related to this matter and will be free to consult with any independent experts as he sees fit.”

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