Phelps, Schmitt call for WADA reform in US hearing

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

Phelps and Schmitt made the calls while testifying before a hearing of the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight in Washington.

Both Phelps and Schmitt, as well as United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart, attacked WADA over recent reports involving 23 Chinese swimmers who tested positive for the banned prescription drug trimetazidine in early 2021 ( TMZ) heart medicine.

None of the 23 swimmers were suspended or punished after WADA accepted Chinese authorities’ explanation that the results were due to food contamination at the hotel where they stayed together.

Separate reports published last week by The New York Times revealed that three swimmers – including two gold medalists at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and the 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 denies any wrongdoing in the case.

But Phelps and Schmitt sharply criticized WADA’s handling of the matter, saying the scandal had damaged athletes’ confidence in their bodies.

Phelps, 38, who won a record 23 Olympic gold medals in five Olympic appearances, compared the current situation to 2017, when he last called for WADA reforms during a hearing before U.S. lawmakers over the Russian doping scandal in 2014

“It is clear to me that all attempts to reform WADA have failed and that there remain deep-seated systemic problems that have proven time and again to be detrimental to the integrity of international sport and athletes’ right to compete fairly,” Phelps said. .

“I call on Congress to use its considerable influence over WADA to make it an independent and effective organization. It cannot be a coincidence that WADA has once again succumbed to pressure from international sport to take action at the expense of the athlete.”

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

“Many of them will spend the rest of their lives wondering what if,” Phelps said.

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

Schmitt was a member of the U.S. 4×200-meter freestyle relay team that followed China to silver in Tokyo. The race was one of five events in which Chinese swimmers, among the 23 who tested positive for TMZ, won medals.

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

“We respected their performance and accepted our defeat,” Schmitt said. “But now that I learn that the Chinese relay team consisted of athletes who had not served their suspensions, I look back with doubts.

“I am begging you on behalf of American athletes: hold WADA and the global anti-doping system accountable. If we win, let it be because we deserve 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 longtime critic of WADA, said failure to implement reform of the drug watchdog would be “committing an unacceptable injustice to today’s athletes, fans and sponsors who believe in and invest in fair and clean competition.”

Tygart suggested that WADA’s funding should be conditional on the agency establishing an “independent expert committee” that would make decisions on all positive tests that do not result in anti-doping rule violations and announce them publicly.

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

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