WADA receives support from Foundation Board on Chinese swimming case

Today, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) held a virtual extraordinary meeting of its Foundation Board (Board) to update members on the latest developments in the contamination case involving Chinese swimmers in 2021. 

The objective of the meeting, which was open to members of the media, was for WADA experts to provide further information to the Board members on this important matter, and to give them the opportunity to ask questions. This was the latest in a series of stakeholder engagement activities that have included an extensive press conference, meetings with WADA’s Executive Committee, WADA’s Athlete Council and National and Regional Anti-Doping Organizations, as well as publication of media statements and a comprehensive fact sheet and question-and-answer document. 

During the Board meeting, WADA gave members a full outline of the work that it has carried out on the case from the moment it became aware of the positive tests in 2021 to date, from every perspective including as it relates to science, legal affairs, and intelligence and investigations. WADA received broad support from stakeholders, including representatives of athletes, Governments and the Sport Movement, as well as from WADA’s Founding President, Richard Pound.  

At all stages, WADA has maintained that according to all the available evidence, this was not a case of doping but of no-fault contamination, and that WADA acted according to applicable processes and rules making no attempt to cover up the case in any way. As a response to calls, WADA has now referred the matter to an independent prosecutor, Mr. Eric Cottier, who will conduct a review with the intention of issuing a report by the end of June. 

WADA President Witold Bańka said: “Today WADA received the backing of its Foundation Board, which came from members of all stakeholder groups, including from athletes, the Sport Movement, Governments and National Anti-Doping Organizations. 

“It is understandable that stakeholders have questions. It is a complex case and we are happy to have had the opportunity today to provide the facts to Board members and respond to their questions. The independent prosecutor has now started his review. He will have full access to all WADA’s files and any information in our possession. He is also free to choose any other independent expert to assist him in reaching his conclusions, as he deems necessary. WADA will be ready to consider any recommendations he may have in that regard. In fact, as we are currently carrying out a stakeholder consultation process related to the ongoing update of the World Anti-Doping Code and International Standards, the timing is perfect to consider any recommendations as to how the global anti-doping system can be strengthened further.” 

As it relates to testing of the 23 Chinese athletes at the center of this story, Board members were informed that the athletes had undergone significant testing in the past few years. In fact, WADA is able to confirm that the 23 athletes provided approximately 1,700 doping control samples between 2018 and 2022, with certain athletes having been tested dozens of times per year, whether by swimming’s International Federation (now known as World Aquatics) or the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency. Indeed, in the almost four months from 1 April 2021 until the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games in July 2021, close to 300 samples were collected from the 23 athletes, which equates on average to several samples per month, per athlete.

WADA Athlete Council representative on the Board, Patrick O’Leary, said: “It is very important that the athletes’ voices are not lost in this story and that we continue to be part of the conversation. As such we appreciate WADA’s efforts to communicate the facts behind the case, in providing information to us and affording us with every opportunity to ask questions and gain clarity. Indeed, there will be a further chance next week when WADA will host another meeting for athletes.  

“We welcome WADA’s move to invite an independent prosecutor to conduct a thorough review of its handling of the matter. We will have the opportunity to assess the findings of this review and discuss with WADA opportunities for possible improvements that could be made to the rules. These opportunities will come at the Executive Committee and Foundation Board, both which have athlete members, and also in the review of the World Anti-Doping Code, in which we are actively participating. Clearly, and understandably, some members of the athlete community continue to feel frustrated by what they are reading and hearing about this matter so we hope the prosecutor will be able to provide the clarity and certainty we need. It is important, therefore, that we reserve judgement and give him the space he needs to conduct that independent process in advance of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.”   

WADA’s Founding President Dick Pound, who attended the meeting, said: “I am deeply disappointed and disgusted by the deliberate lies and distortions coming from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), including that WADA has swept doping cases in China under the rug. That accusation, bereft of any truth, has but a single purpose: to deliberately damage the reputation of WADA and to lessen the worldwide trust that has been built up since WADA was created a quarter of a century ago to head up the international fight against doping in sport. What is missing in USADA’s conduct is a willingness to work for solutions - just endless and biased criticism.” 

About the Foundation Board 

The 42-member Foundation Board is WADA’s highest decision-making body. It is composed of representatives from the Olympic Movement, Governments, athletes and NADOs. In total, almost half (20/42) of the current Board is made up of active or former international-level athletes.