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Olympic champion swimmers tell Congress U.S. athletes have lost faith in anti-doping regulator

Allison Schmitt, former Olympic athlete, is sworn in during a House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing examining Anti-Doping Measures in Advance of the 2024 Olympics, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 25, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Rod Lamkey, Jr.)
Original Publication Date June 25, 2024 - 4:26 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Olympic athletes have lost faith in the World Anti-Doping Agency to rid their sports of cheaters ahead of next month's Summer Games in Paris, two former gold medalists told a House subcommittee on Tuesday night.

The testimony by Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt followed revelations this spring that 23 Chinese swimmers had tested positive for a banned heart medication ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but were allowed by WADA to compete. Five of those swimmers went on to win medals, including three golds.

Phelps is the most decorated swimmer in history and a 23-time Olympic gold medalist. Schmitt, a four-time gold medalist, was part of the U.S. 800-meter freestyle relay team that finished a close second to China at the Tokyo Games. Both the Chinese and U.S. teams broke the previous world record in the relay.

“We raced hard. We trained hard. We followed every protocol. We accepted our defeat with grace,” Schmitt said. “Many of us will be haunted by this podium finish that may have been impacted by doping.”

Eleven of the Chinese swimmers who tested positive ahead of Tokyo are set to compete again in Paris.

Phelps, wearing a dark suit, was joined by his wife, Nicole, and youngest son, Nico, who was born in January. He nodded in agreement multiple times as members of Congress criticized WADA and said Americans should be able to watch the Olympics without wondering if the competition is rigged.

Phelps expressed frustration that nothing had changed since he testified before the same subcommittee seven years ago about WADA’s handling of Russian state-sponsored doping.

“Sitting here once again, it is clear to me that any attempts of reform at WADA have fallen short, and there are still deeply rooted, systemic problems that prove detrimental to the integrity of international sports and athletes' right to fair competition, time and time again,” Phelps said.

The global doping regulator accepted Chinese anti-doping officials’ conclusion that the 23 athletes had ingested the banned substance through contaminated food at a hotel. Independent anti-doping experts have questioned that finding, with U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart calling it “outrageous.”

“The banned drug, which is only available in pill form, somehow ended up in the kitchen of a hotel the swimmers were staying at,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, adding that WADA “somehow concluded this explanation was plausible.”

WADA said COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in China prevented an “on the ground probe” of the positive tests and concluded that it could not disprove Chinese authorities’ explanation.

WADA President Witold Banka was invited to testify Tuesday but declined.

“Unfortunately, there persists a narrative from some in the U.S. suggesting that WADA somehow acted inappropriately or showed bias towards China, despite there being no evidence to support that theory,” Banka said in a statement. “WADA understands the tense relationship that exists between the governments of China and U.S. and has no mandate to be part of that. It is not appropriate for anti-doping to be politicized in this way.”

In response to criticism, WADA appointed an independent investigator, Swiss prosecutor Eric Cottier, to review its handling of the China case. Cottier was appointed on April 25 and was expected to deliver his findings within two months. His appointment, too, angered critics who pointed out his potential conflicts of interest.

The United States contributes more funding to WADA than any other country, including nearly $3.7 million this year. China has given WADA $1.8 million more than its required dues since 2018, Tygart noted in his testimony.

Tygart called on the U.S. to condition its future funding of WADA on reforms at the agency, an idea that both Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they supported.

“I think the threat of that if not actually suspending (funding) for a period of time will go a long way to influence the truth getting out,” Tygart said. “We should ensure that our money is going for a good purpose and right now it’s absolutely not.”


AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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