Chinese Swimmers Failed Drug Tests Before 2021 Olympics

Swimming Pool Lanes
Swimming Pool Lanes | Image by Matt Henry Gunther/Getty Images

The World Anti-Doping Agency has responded to criticism following reports that 23 Chinese swimmers were allowed to compete after testing positive for a banned substance seven months before the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

WADA confirmed that the Chinese Anti-doping Agency (CHINADA) discovered traces of trimetazidine (TMZ), which is a banned substance used in heart medicine that can also improve athletic performance, in all 23 of the Chinese swimmers who tested positive in drug tests, according to The New York Times.

Many of the athletes went on to win medals during the Olympics, with three of the athletes who tested positive for TMZ winning gold medals at the games.

Investigators with CHINADA inspected the hotel where the swimmers were all staying for an event and discovered trace amounts of the substance throughout various locations. The agency then determined the positive tests were due to inadvertent food contamination and chose not to notify WADA about the positive tests until June 2021, as reported by Reuters.

WADA said in a statement about the incident that the agency “carefully reviewed the decision” by CHINADA to accept the positive tests and consulted the incident with a variety of sources before determining that the agency could not “disprove the possibility that contamination was the source of TMZ and it was compatible with the analytical data in the file.”

Although WADA obtained the case file and evaluated every possible reason for the positive tests, it acknowledged that it could not conduct any investigations in China “given the extreme restrictions in place due to a COVID-related lockdown.”

Now, many experts on the subject have said they are surprised by the depth of the investigation conducted by WADA, with former director general of the agency David Howman saying the scenario was “shocking” and his “concern is intense.”

“What it would say to me immediately is that perhaps there was some form of program in this sport to ‘prepare’ swimmers for the Tokyo Olympics,” he said, according to NYT.

Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, has also voiced concerns that there was a “cover-up of these cases by the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency,” also noting that TMZ “doesn’t show up in the environment or magically appear in kitchens.”

“And it’s beyond question that China didn’t follow the rules. They effectively swept this under the carpet because they didn’t find a violation. They didn’t announce a violation. They didn’t disqualify the athletes from the event at which they tested positive,” he said in an interview with PBS.

“And this is absolutely mandatory under the world anti-doping code that all nations are required to follow. And that didn’t happen,” he added.

WADA has been adamant that no known cover-up occurred regarding these instances, with a WADA official now stating that the agency was prepared to take legal action if such claims continue.

“What is clear is that some comments that have been made which suggested a cover-up of doping cases for political reasons couldn’t be further from the truth,” said WADA general counsel Ross Wenze, per Reuters.

“They clearly have the potential to damage WADA’s reputation therefore it is something we will have to go through with a fine-toothed comb and take whatever action is necessary,” he said.

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