Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt Testify on Anti-Doping Measures Ahead of the Olympics

Two of America’s most decorated Olympic swimmers called on Congress on Tuesday to hold the world anti-doping agency accountable for its failure to properly police allegations of cheating by China’s elite athletes.

In testimony before a House subcommittee, 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and four-time Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt urged Congress to push for reforms to the global agency anti-doping, or WADA. They said uncertainty over whether Chinese swimmers used banned substances is deeply unfair to competitors preparing for the Summer Games next month in Paris.

The hearing came two months after The New York Times reported that Chinese anti-doping authorities and WADA had refused to sanction 23 elite Chinese swimmers who tested positive for a banned drug in early 2021, opening the door to them the path to participation in the Games held in Tokyo that summer.

Chinese authorities said the positive tests were the result of unintentional contamination of swimmers and involved trace amounts of the banned substance, a conclusion accepted by WADA but which many anti-doping experts have questioned.

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee suggested that the United States, which has provided more than $3.6 million to WADA this year, more than any other country, could suspend their funding to the agency if it does not reform. They also reprimanded Witold Banka, the president of the AMA, for refusing to testify. An empty chair and a microphone with its nameplate were set up next to the other witnesses.

Phelps, whose swimming career spanned five Olympics, told the committee he did not believe he had ever competed on a clean field at the international level and said he would support a lifetime ban for athletes who knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs. He also warned that inaction could threaten the future of the Games.

Schmitt was part of the U.S. 4×200-meter freestyle relay team that finished second to China at the Tokyo Olympics. It was one of five events in which Chinese swimmers who had tested positive for the banned substance months earlier won medals, including three golds.

“We raced hard,” Schmitt said of the U.S. team in his testimony. “We followed all protocols and accepted our defeat with grace.”

With the revelations about Chinese positive tests, she added, “many of us will be haunted by the podium that may have been impacted by doping.”

Scrutiny over its handling of positive tests has left WADA facing a growing crisis heading into this summer’s Games.

Some American athletes who will compete in Paris, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Lilly King, have said they cannot be sure they will be able to compete on a level playing field. Phelps, who like Schmitt is retired from competitive swimming, called WADA “an organization that continues to prove that it is either incapable or unwilling to enforce its policies consistently around the world.” .

Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and a vocal critic of WADA, recommended that the United States condition the agency’s funding.

He proposed that WADA, in an effort to prevent a repeat of what happened with the Chinese swimmers, set up a committee of independent experts to review cases in which athletes tested positive but their countries refused to discipline them. Under current rules, even athletes who are not disciplined are supposed to have their positive test made public.

In the case of the Chinese swimmers before the 2021 Games, no public announcement was made regarding the positive tests, the swimmers were not punished, and they competed in the Olympics without their rivals knowing there was questions about their use of a prohibited substance. .

Tygart also called on WADA to make public its entire record on Chinese positive tests and conduct an audit of the agency.

The agency has maintained its management of positive tests. He has appointed a former Swiss prosecutor to determine whether he did anything wrong or gave favorable treatment to China, although U.S. officials, other countries’ anti-doping authorities and athletes question whether this investigation will be truly independent. The findings of this investigation are expected to be published before the Olympics.

The Times reported in April that Chinese anti-doping authorities had claimed that the athletes should not be sanctioned because traces of the drug for which they had tested positive – a prescription heart medication known as trimetazidine, or TMZ – were found in the kitchen of a hotel. where they stayed for a meeting at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.

The Chinese authorities concluded that the positive tests after the competition were therefore the result of the swimmers’ involuntary ingestion of food contaminated with TMZ, without however knowing how this drug, presented in pill form, could have found its way into the meal for so many swimmers.

Despite rules requiring public disclosure of contamination cases – even those in which athletes are cleared – the Chinese have kept positive tests secret. WADA, which is supposed to act as a safety net when countries fail to follow the rules, accepted the Chinese authorities’ explanation, failed to conduct an on-the-ground investigation and refused to try to discipline the athletes.

The Times’ revelation about the positive tests and WADA’s handling of them raised questions around the world about the agency charged with keeping the Olympics clean.

The loudest outcry came from the United States, which has seen competition from China intensify in swimming. The top anti-drug official in the Biden White House has demanded more accountability and transparency from the AMA, members of Congress have urged the FBI to investigate the matter and lawmakers are considering whether to continue to finance the agency.

In his prepared remarks submitted to the committee, Schmitt described efforts by U.S. athletes to ensure compliance with anti-doping rules, from having to urinate in front of doping testers to avoiding something as simple as a topical cream to relieve dry skin if they are I’m not sure what ingredients it contains.

“I even had a drug tester come and sit next to me during a history test in college because he showed up unannounced,” Schmitt said.

Phelps first testified before Congress on this issue in 2017, in response to the doping scandal in which a former Russian official publicly stated that the country had run a state-sponsored doping program that produced Olympic stars. Phelps said during Tuesday’s hearing that he was “incredulous” to be bringing up the same issue again seven years later.

“It is clear to me that all attempts at reform within WADA have failed, and that there are still deep-rooted systemic problems that are detrimental to the integrity of international sport and the right of athletes to fair competition,” Phelps said.

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