Phelps, Schmitt call for WADA reform in US hearing

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

Phelps and Schmitt testified before a hearing in Washington of the U.S. Congressional Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Both Phelps and Schmitt, along with United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) CEO Travis Tygart, took aim at WADA over the recent revelations of 23 Chinese swimmers testing positive for the prescription 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 a hotel where they were staying together.

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

WADA has rejected USADA’s accusations of a cover-up and China has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

But Phelps and Schmitt blasted WADA’s handling of the case, saying the scandal had damaged athletes’ body trust.

Phelps, 38, who has won 23 Olympic gold medals in five Olympic Games, compared the current situation to 2017, when he last called for WADA reform during a hearing before US lawmakers over the 2014 Russian doping scandal.

“It is clear to me that WADA’s reform efforts have failed, and there are still deep-rooted systemic problems that have proven time and time again to be detrimental to the integrity of international sports and the right of athletes to compete fairly,” Phelps said. .

“I urge Congress to use its considerable influence with WADA to ensure that the organization is independent and effective. It cannot be a coincidence that WADA once again succumbed to the pressure of international sport to put the goal at the expense of the athlete.”

According to Phelps, “close friends” were affected by the decision to allow Chinese swimmers who failed tests in 2021 to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed due to the epidemic.

“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 its inability or unwillingness to enforce its policies consistently around the world.”

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

The 34-year-old said that although he had heard “doping whispers about the Chinese team” during his swimming career, he initially had no reason to doubt the legitimacy of China’s 4x200m gold medal in Tokyo.

“We respected their performance and accepted our defeat,” Schmitt said. “But now that I found out that the Chinese relay consisted of athletes who did not serve a suspension, I look back with doubts.

“On behalf of American athletes, I’m begging you: hold WADA and the global anti-doping system accountable. If we win, let it be because we deserved it. And if we lose, so be it, 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 doping reform would “do an unacceptable injustice to today’s athletes, fans and sponsors who believe in and invest in fair and clean competition.”

Tygart suggested that WADA funding should be made conditional on the agency establishing an “independent expert committee” to rule on any positive test that does not lead to a doping violation and public reporting.

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

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