World Swimming Federation confirms US government investigation into doping tests of Chinese swimmers

GENEVA (AP) — The International Swimming Federation says its top executive has been ordered to testify in a U.S. criminal investigation into the case of 23 Chinese swimmers who failed doping tests in 2021, but were still allowed to participate.

The news comes just three weeks before the Paris Olympics, where 11 Chinese swimmers who tested positive for the banned heart drug three years ago are competing.

The swimmers won three gold medals for China at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, just weeks after the World Anti-Doping Agency refused to dispute Chinese authorities’ explanation of food contamination at a hotel in order not to suspend them.

These decisions, which World Aquatics also made separately, were not announced until April in a report by the New York Times and German broadcaster ARD.

A House of Representatives committee on China has Department of Justice and the FBI on May 21 to investigate the matter under a federal law that allows investigations into suspected doping conspiracies even if they occurred outside the U.S.

World Aquatics confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that director Brent Nowicki has been subpoenaed to testify in the investigation.

“World Aquatics can confirm that its Executive Director, Brent Nowicki, has received a subpoena from the U.S. government,” the federation said in a statement to the AP. “He is in the process of scheduling a meeting with the government, which will likely eliminate the need for grand jury testimony.”

World Aquatics declined to answer questions about where and when Nowicki received his summons and did not specify which office is leading the investigation.

“Per our standard practice, the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of an investigation,” the agency said in an emailed response Thursday.

The Chinese swimmers’ case could become the highest-profile use yet of a U.S. federal law passed in 2020 as a result of the longstanding scandal surrounding Russian state-sponsored doping in sports.

The 23 swimmers tested positive for trimetazidine in January 2021 and were entered into the global anti-doping database weeks later. They included Zhang Yufei, who went on to win Olympic gold in the 200-meter butterfly and women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay, and Wang Shun, the men’s 200-meter individual medley champion.

A later investigation by Chinese state authorities revealed that traces of the substance were found in the kitchen of a hotel where the team was staying. No explanation has been given as to how or why the prescription drug ended up there in pill form.

WADA the theory accepted allowing the Chinese swimmers to continue competing, and has since described it as “a relatively simple case of mass contamination.”

The agency has since defended his treatment of the case that was kept secret in 2021 on the grounds that there was no way to independently debunk the theory during the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel to China was not possible.

Lawyers for WADA said in April this year that they had no evidence to win separate appeals against the 23 swimmers for the Tokyo Olympics. Any appeals seeking suspensions for the swimmers would have been heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where Nowicki was a longtime senior counsel before joining World Aquatics in 2021.

“This scandal raises serious legal, ethical, and competitive concerns and may represent a broader state-sponsored strategy by the People’s Republic of China to compete unfairly in the Olympic Games, as Russia has done before,” the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said in the letter to the Justice Department and the FBI.

The matter was also raised last month at a Congressional hearing in which large swimmers Michael Phelps said athletes have lost confidence in WADA as the global watchdog charged with keeping cheaters out of the sporting world.

Officials from the Montreal-based agency declined an invitation to attend the hearing, saying it “would be inappropriate to be drawn into a political debate before a U.S. congressional committee about a case from another country, especially while an independent investigation into WADA’s handling of the case is underway.”

That evaluation report is pending a WADA-appointed former public prosecutor in the Swiss canton of Vaud, home to the International Olympic Committee and the governing bodies of many Olympic sports.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Director Travis Tygart suggested to The Associated Press that an ongoing federal investigation could leave sports officials traveling to the U.S. “afraid of having to answer questions about their activities from the FBI.”

The US will host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and in Paris on July 24 The IOC must confirm Salt Lake City as host of the 2034 Winter Olympics.

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, named after a whistleblower who exposed Russian state-sponsored doping, passed with bipartisan support. The law received broad support from the global sports community for its aim to criminalize doping.

However, WADA lobbied against which it saw as a risk of overstepping the powers of the ‘extraterritorial’ jurisdiction it could give to US federal agencies, and the IOC also expressed concerns.

The Rodchenkov Act, Tygart said, “was passed in 2021 with broad support from athletes, sportspeople and multinational governments because WADA could not be trusted to be a strong, fair global watchdog to protect clean athletes and fair sport.”

___ Pells reported from Denver, Colorado.

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AP Olympic Games: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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