White House official demands investigation into Wada’s handling of Chinese doping case

A Chinese flag is unfurled on the podium of a swimming event final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, on July 29, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan
A Chinese flag is unfurled on the podium of a swimming event final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, on July 29, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan

A leading White House official has called for an independent investigation into how anti-doping authorities cleared 23 Chinese swimmers after they tested positive for a banned drug just months before the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Rahul Gupta, who is the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Joe Biden’s top anti-doping official, also intends to raise the issue at a meeting of sports ministers in Washington this week, which is also scheduled to include representatives from the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Wada has confirmed that the Chinese swimmers tested positive for the drug, but accepted the country’s findings that this was due to substance contamination. Wada said it was notified in June 2021 of China Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to accept that the swimmers returned adverse analytical findings after inadvertently being exposed to the drug.

The decision not to suspend or publicly identify the swimmers has prompted considerable condemnation and there is now pressure to open a new investigation.

“The United States stands by its commitment to ensure that every American athlete and those across the globe are provided a level playing field and a fair shot in international athletic competitions,” Dr. Gupta told The New York Times. “There must be rigorous, independent investigations to look into any incident of potential wrongdoing.”

The British three-time Olympic champion Adam Peaty was among those to criticise Wada, calling the failure to announce the findings ahead of the Tokyo Olympics was “so disappointing”.

“Why not release this information at the time, who really benefits from the lack of transparency and secrecy?” Peaty said on social media on Saturday. “What happened to strict liability? Whether someone benefits or not, surely at this scale it proves it’s systematic?”

China’s 30-member swimming team won six medals at the Tokyo Games, including three golds.

In a virtual news conference on Monday, senior WADA officials defended their handling of the case.

“If we had to do it over again now,” the WADA president Witold Banka said, “we would do exactly the same thing.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, meanwhile, responded to a question about the positive tests at a news conference on Monday by declaring the reporting “false information.”

Without mitigating circumstances, athletes who fail doping tests are usually subject to bans of two to four years for a first offence and life for a second.

World Aquatics, the sport’s global body formerly known as Fina, said it was confident the positive tests were handled “diligently and professionally.”

“With regard to the AAFs ... they were carefully considered by the Fina doping control review board,” it added. “Materials relating to the source of the AAFs were subject to independent expert scrutiny retained by Fina.

“World Aquatics is confident that these AAFs were handled diligently and professionally, and in accordance with applicable anti-doping regulations, including the Wada code.”