Phelps, Schmitt call for WADA reform in US hearing

WASHINGTON: Olympic swimming icon Michael Phelps and four-time gold medalist Allison Schmitt called on Tuesday for reform of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) over the global body’s handling of China’s 2021 swimming doping scandal.

Phelps and Schmitt issued their calls during testimony before the US Congress at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in Washington.

Both Phelps and Schmitt, along with US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) executive director Travis Tygart, targeted WADA over recent revelations about 23 Chinese swimmers testing positive for the banned heart drug trimetazidine (TMZ) in early 2021.

None of the 23 swimmers were suspended or sanctioned after WADA accepted the Chinese authorities’ explanation that the results were caused by food contamination at the hotel where they were staying together.

Separate revelations published by The New York Times last week revealed that three of the swimmers – including two Tokyo 2021 Olympic gold medalists and the current world record holder – tested positive for banned substances several years ago.

WADA has rejected allegations by USADA that it was involved in a cover-up, and China has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

But Phelps and Schmitt said WADA handled the case and argued the scandal had eroded athletes’ body confidence.

Phelps, 38, winner of a record 23 Olympic gold medals in five appearances at the Olympics, compared the current situation to 2017, when he last called for WADA reforms at a hearing before US lawmakers over the 2014 Russian doping scandal.

“It is clear to me that all attempts at reform at WADA have failed and there are still deep-rooted systemic problems that have been shown time and time again to damage the integrity of international sport and the right of athletes to compete fairly,” Phelps said. .

“I urge Congress to use its considerable influence over WADA to make the organization independent and effective. It cannot reasonably be a coincidence that WADA has once again succumbed to pressure from international sport to do what is appropriate at the expense of the athlete.”

Phelps said “close friends” were potentially affected by the decision to allow Chinese swimmers who failed the 2021 trials to compete in the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics.

“Many of them will live with the ‘what ifs’ for the rest of their lives,” Phelps said.

“As athletes, our faith can no longer be blindly placed in the World Anti-Doping Agency, an organization that has consistently demonstrated that it is unable or unwilling to consistently enforce its principles around the world.”

Schmitt was a member of the US 4x200m freestyle relay team that won silver in Tokyo behind China. The race was one of five events in which Chinese swimmers won medals among the 23 who tested positive on TMZ.

The 34-year-old said that although she had heard “doping rumors from the Chinese team” throughout her swimming career, she initially had no reason to doubt the legitimacy of China’s 4×200 gold medal in Tokyo.

“We respected their performance and accepted our defeat,” Schmitt said. “But now that I have learned that the Chinese relay consisted of athletes who were not suspended, I look back with doubts.”

“On behalf of American athletes, I’m asking: hold WADA and the global anti-doping system accountable. If we win, let it be because we deserved it. And if we lose, let it be because the competition was fair.

“We need the International Olympic Committee, NBC, sponsors and fans to demand integrity in our sport.”

Tygart, a long-time critic of WADA, said failure to implement drug control reform would “commit an unacceptable injustice to today’s athletes, fans and sponsors who believe in and invest in fair and clean competition.”

Tygart proposed that WADA’s funding be conditioned on the agency establishing an “independent expert panel” to rule on all positive tests that do not result in an anti-doping rule violation and a public announcement.

“The rules require this in all positive cases of this type and WADA has now finally admitted that China should have identified these 23 cases as violations and therefore should have reported them as early as 2021,” Tygart said.

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