USADA wants WADA overhaul after Chinese swimming scandal

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said on Tuesday that the World Anti-Doping Agency must be overhauled to restore confidence in the global body ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics following its handling of a Chinese doping case.

USADA wants an independent prosecutor to review the case of 23 Chinese swimmers who tested positive before the Tokyo Olympics began in 2021 but were not punished as WADA accepted Chinese authorities' explanation that their samples had been contaminated.

"Athletes and the public desperately need and deserve confidence in the global anti-doping system headed into these [Paris] Games," USADA said in a news release.

It called for: "governments to appoint an independent prosecutor to review the entire case file of the 23 positive tests and ensure that justice is delivered in these cases."

WADA, which held a two-hour media availability on Monday during which its senior officials defended the handling of the case, did not immediately respond when asked by Reuters to comment on USADA's demands.

The Chinese swimmers tested positive for trimetazidine months before the COVID-delayed Tokyo Olympics began in the Japanese capital in July 2021.

WADA was notified in June 2021 of the Chinese anti-doping organization's decision to accept that the swimmers were exposed to the substance through contamination from spice containers in the kitchen of a hotel where they were staying.

The case file was made available to the WADA science department which determined the contamination scenario was not only plausible but that there was no concrete element to call it into question.

The head of USADA, Travis Tygart, said on Monday the swimmers should have been provisionally suspended, and his organization kept up the pressure on WADA on Tuesday.

"The statute of limitations has not run out in these cases and the pathway for application of the rules and due process may still exist," USADA said in a news release.

"The effort to achieve whatever justice possible at this time must happen before the 2024 Paris Games, as it is unfair for all athletes competing in these Games to possibly compete against those who tested positive and whose results were kept secret until now."

But WADA, whose senior officials defended the handling of the case during a two-hour media availability on Monday, said in response it had no evidence to challenge the scenario that led to China Anti-Doping Agency closing the cases in June 2021.

"WADA was advised by external counsel that it would lose any appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport based on such a challenge," WADA said in a statement to Reuters.

"This is a position that was also reached separately by the international governing body for swimming, World Aquatics, which independently studied the evidence and reached the same conclusion.

"So far, despite all the attention created around this story, nobody has been able to produce any evidence that would allow a successful prosecution of these cases."

USADA also wants the governments at the WADA Executive and Foundation Board to launch a full review into how the swimmers escaped punishment.

"All athletes, sponsors and fans of the Olympic and Paralympic Movement deserve a real global guard dog that has the teeth and the determination to apply the rules uniformly and fairly," said USADA.

"Additionally, following this review, we call on governments and the sport movement to overhaul WADA to ensure a cover-up of positive samples on the eve of the Olympic Games cannot occur ever again."

Aquatics GB, the national governing body for water sports in Great Britain, expressed its concern over the scandal in a statement Tuesday.

"Aquatics GB believes that every athlete is entitled to compete on a level playing field -- and that means a commitment to clean sport," the body wrote. "Delivering against this commitment requires a testing process that is robust, transparent, and consistently applied. As we build towards Paris 2024, we are fully supportive of the consistent and comprehensive testing processes that our athletes have to follow as a means of keeping sport clean.

"Against this backdrop, we are extremely concerned by the allegations concerning positive tests in the build-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (2021) which were reported over the weekend. The potential loss of trust and reputational damage to sport is significant and we will be monitoring any further updates and possible resolutions closely."

Information from Reuters was used in this report.