What we know about Chinese swimming doping revelations

olympics23 April 2024 11:43| © AFP
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Twenty-three Chinese swimmers tested positive for a banned substance just months before the 2021 Tokyo Olympics but were still allowed to compete.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and other world bodies accepted China's findings that the swimmers had ingested the drug unwittingly in the lead-up to the pandemic-delayed Games.

With the Paris Olympics now just three months away, and some of those same swimmers set to feature prominently, here is what we know so far about a case that has rocked sport:


The swimmers tested positive for trimetazidine (TMZ). It is a prescription heart medication but is banned for athletes because it can enhance performance.

In 2014, China's three-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer Sun Yang served the first of his two doping bans after failing a test for TMZ.

That positive test and ban did not emerge until after Sun had served his three-month suspension.

TMZ was also among the cocktail of medication found in Kamila Valieva's system. The teenage Olympic figure skater from Russia was banned in January for four years.

She claimed the cause of her positive test could have been a strawberry dessert made by her grandfather on a board he also used to crush pills that he was taking after receiving an artificial heart.


This is one of the major bones of contention.

Rather than any contemporaneous official disclosure, the revelations emerged at the weekend from The New York Times and the German broadcaster ARD, which has a track record of similar reporting on doping cases.

The Times cited a review of confidential documents and emails, including a report compiled by CHINADA, the Chinese anti-doping agency, which was submitted to its global counterpart, Wada.

Wada never made the information public.

"Why not release this information at the time, who really benefits from the lack of transparency and secrecy?" Adam Peaty, Britain's triple Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer, wrote on social media.


This is one of the biggest questions.

According to China, traces of TMZ were found in the kitchen of a hotel where the swimmers were staying for a domestic competition in late 2020 to early 2021.

CHINADA said the swimmers tested positive for an "extremely low concentration" of TMZ and it reported its findings to Wada.

At the time the country's borders were effectively sealed off because of China's strict pandemic policies, making any kind of independent on-ground assessment impossible.


CHINADA has threatened legal action against foreign media over their reports and the Beijing government has called the international coverage "fake news".

Overseas condemnation, some of it furious, has been led by Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

The case has given rise to questions over why the failed tests only emerged now, and via the media, and why the swimmers were not at least immediately suspended.

Tygart called Wada's actions "a devastating stab in the back of clean athletes" and said he had provided Wada with allegations of doping in Chinese swimming multiple times since 2020.

In response, Wada has accused Tygart of playing politics and rejected accusations of a cover-up.

Wada president Witold Banka said the organisation "followed the whole due process and diligently investigated every line of enquiry in this matter".

Wada had "no credible way to disprove the contamination theory", he said.


The damaging controversy looks set to run and run, especially with the Paris Olympics coming up fast and China expected to be among the medals in swimming.

Wada and China have both doubled down on their positions, and Beijing will likely now batten down the hatches.

Wada has also suggested that it could take legal action against USADA.

China's swimmers are currently safely tucked away for their Olympic trials at home, but they will go in front of the full glare of the world media at the Olympics and are sure to face some difficult questions.