Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt testify on anti-doping measures ahead of the Olympics

Two of America's most decorated Olympic swimmers asked Congress on Tuesday to hold the global anti-doping agency accountable for failing to adequately police allegations of cheating by elite Chinese athletes.

In testimony before a House subcommittee, Michael Phelps, a 23-time Olympic gold medalist, and Allison Schmitt, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, urged Congress to push for reforms to the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA. They said uncertainty over whether Chinese swimmers used banned substances is deeply unfair to competitors taking part in the Summer Games next month in Paris.

The hearing came two months after The New York Times reported that Chinese anti-doping authorities and WADA had refused to discipline 23 elite Chinese swimmers who tested positive for a banned drug in early 2021, paving the way for them to compete in the Games held in Tokyo that summer. .

Chinese authorities have said the positive tests were the result of inadvertent contamination of the swimmers and involved small amounts of the banned substance, a finding that WADA accepted but that many anti-doping experts have questioned.

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations subcommittee have suggested that the United States, which has provided more than $3.6 million to WADA this year, more than any other country, could withhold funding to the agency if he didn't reform. They also reprimanded Witold Banka, the president of WADA, for refusing to testify. An empty chair and a microphone with his nameplate were placed next to the other witnesses.

Phelps, whose swimming career spanned five Olympics, told the committee he did not believe he had ever competed on a clean field at the international level and said he would support a lifetime ban for athletes who knowingly use performance-enhancing substances. performance. He also warned that inaction could threaten the future of the Games.

Schmitt was a member of the U.S. 4×200 freestyle relay team that placed second to China at the Tokyo Olympics. It was one of five events in which Chinese swimmers who tested positive for the banned substance months earlier won medals, including three golds.

“We ran hard,” Schmitt said of the American team in his testimony. “We followed every protocol and accepted our defeat with grace.”

With the revelations about positive Chinese tests, he added, “many of us will be haunted by podiums that may have been affected by doping.”

Scrutiny over its handling of positive tests has left WADA facing a growing crisis ahead of this summer's Games.

Some American athletes who will compete in Paris, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Lilly King, said they could not be sure they would compete on a level playing field. Phelps, who like Schmitt has retired from competitive swimming, called WADA “an organization that continues to demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to enforce its policies consistently around the world.”

Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and an outspoken critic of WADA, has recommended that the United States condition funding of the agency.

He proposed that WADA, in an effort to avoid a repeat of what happened with the Chinese swimmers, set up an independent expert committee to look into cases where athletes tested positive but their countries refused to discipline them. Under current rules, even athletes who are not disciplined would have to make their positive test public.

In the case of the Chinese swimmers before the 2021 Games, no public announcement of the positive tests was made, the swimmers were not punished and continued to compete at the Olympics without their rivals knowing there were questions about their use of a banned substance.

Tygart also called for WADA to make public the entire file on Chinese positive tests and for an audit of the agency.

The agency maintained its management of positive tests. He has appointed a former top Swiss prosecutor to investigate whether he did anything wrong or gave favorable treatment to China, even as American officials, other countries' anti-doping authorities and athletes have questioned whether this investigation will be truly independent. The results of that investigation are expected to be published before the Olympics.

The Times reported in April that Chinese anti-doping authorities had said the athletes did not need to be disciplined because traces of the drug they tested positive for — a heart drug known as trimetazidine, or TMZ — had been found in a hotel kitchen . where they would stay for a meeting in late 2020/early 2021.

Chinese authorities concluded that the positive tests after the race were therefore due to the swimmers' inadvertent ingestion of TMZ-contaminated food, although it is unclear how the drug, in pill form, may have ended up in the swimmers' meals. . many swimmers.

Despite rules requiring public disclosure of contamination cases – even those in which athletes are cleared of any wrongdoing – the Chinese have kept positive tests secret. WADA, set up to act as a back-up when countries fail to follow the rules, accepted the Chinese authorities' explanation, did not conduct an on-the-ground investigation and declined to try to discipline the athletes.

The Times' revelation about the positive tests and WADA's handling of them has raised questions around the world about the agency tasked with keeping the Olympics clean.

The loudest protest came from the United States, which saw China's competition in swimming intensify. The top drug official in the Biden White House has called for greater accountability and transparency at WADA, members of Congress have urged the FBI to investigate the matter and lawmakers are considering whether to continue providing funding to the agency.

In his prepared remarks presented to the committee, Schmitt described the struggles American athletes face to ensure compliance with anti-doping rules, from having to urinate on drug tests to avoiding something as simple as a topical cream to help with skin dry if they are I'm not sure about the ingredients in it.

“I even had a drug tester sit next to me on a history exam in college because he showed up unannounced,” Schmitt said.

Phelps first testified before Congress on this issue in 2017, in response to the doping scandal during which a former Russian official publicly stated that the country had operated a state-sponsored doping program that produced Olympic stars. Phelps said at Tuesday's hearing that he was “in disbelief” that he would be dealing with the same issue again seven years later.

“It is clear to me that any attempts at reform at WADA have failed and there are still deep-rooted systemic problems that prove detrimental to the integrity of international sports and athletes' rights to fair competition,” Phelps said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *