Michael Phelps to urge Congress to ramp up pressure on anti-doping agency amid allegations over Chinese use

Damond Isiaka
8 Min Read

Washington
CNN
 — 

Legendary Olympic champion Michael Phelps on Tuesday will urge Congress to pressure the World Anti-Doping Agency to enforce its regulations equally across all nations as an investigation over alleged doping by Chinese swimmers plays out ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The most decorated Olympian in history will speak in front of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations at a hearing focused on an alleged doping scandal involving almost two dozen Chinese swimmers. The Chinese swimmers tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned performance-enhancing substance, several months before the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where they went on to win medals, according to a report from The New York Times released in coordination with German public broadcaster ARD.

According to a prepared opening statement shared ahead of the hearing, Phelps is set to argue WADA’s handling of the case – which is under an independent review – showed the agency’s reforms have “fallen short.” He’ll ask Congress “to use its considerable leverage with WADA to make the organization independent and effective.”

“It can’t reasonably be a coincidence that WADA has yet again succumbed to the pressures of international sport to do the expedient at the expense of the athlete,” Phelps will say, according to the prepared remarks. “Close friends were potentially impacted by WADA’s failure to follow its own rules in investigating the nearly two dozen positive tests on Chinese swimmers. Many of them will live with the ‘what ifs’ for the rest of their lives.

“As athletes, our faith can no longer be blindly placed in the world anti-doping agency, an organization that continuously proves that it is either incapable or unwilling to enforce its policies consistently around the world.

The hearing is the latest action from lawmakers, who have called for the Department of Justice and the International Olympic Committee to investigate how WADA and the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency handled the positive tests. Former Olympic swimmer Allison Schmitt and US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart are also expected to testify. Tygart has accused WADA and CHINADA of covering up the positive tests, which occurred seven months before the Tokyo Games in 2021, and of leaving other athletes in the dark.

CHINADA has said the 23 athletes tested positive for an “extremely low concentration” of trimetazidine at a national swimming competition in 2021. Trimetazidine has the potential to boost endurance and has been banned by WADA since 2014. The agency decided the swimmers were not responsible for the results because they were inadvertently exposed to the drug. WADA was notified of the positive tests in June 2021, roughly a month before the Tokyo Games kicked off.

In a news conference earlier this year, WADA President Witold Banka said the agency “followed all due processes and diligently investigated every lead and line of enquiry in this matter” and found “no evidence of wrongdoing … and no credible way to disprove the contamination theory that was accepted by CHINADA.”

WADA has launched an independent review into its handling of the tests, and Banka was invited to testify at Tuesday hearing as well. He declined to testify, according to a committee spokesperson. CHINADA has argued media reports about the situations are misleading.

In his prepared remarks, Tygart is expected to slam WADA’s handling of the case and China’s influence on the agency. He will say that 11 of the 23 swimmers who tested positive in 2021 are going to compete in next month’s Games in Paris.

Tygart’s prepared remarks show he is concerned about a cozy relationship between WADA and the Chinese government, including that WADA decided to close an investigation into allegations of “systemic state-run doping in China.”

“WADA handcuffed and blindfolded themselves, and their inaction, as it stands today, will forever haunt athletes who competed against the 13 swimmers in the 2021 Tokyo Games, as well as those competing against the 11 of those Chinese swimmers in Paris next month,” he will say. “This pattern of failure, understandably, has led to the current crisis of confidence in WADA. What is worse … is that WADA has said they would do nothing different and would act the same today.”

Tygart wants Congress to condition US funding for WADA on the group setting up an independent committee of experts that will make rulings on positive tests that don’t result in a rule violation, alleging that those decisions are made in secret. He also wants an audit of WADA to assess how it is complying with its own rules and responsibilities.

In her prepared testimony, Schmitt is candid about what it meant to her to lose to a Chinese relay team that would later come under suspicion.

“We raced hard. We trained hard. We followed every protocol. We respected their performance and accepted our defeat. But … learning that the Chinese relay consisted of athletes who had not served a suspension, I look back with doubt,” she will say. “We may never know the truth and that may haunt many of us for years.”

She’ll also detail the effects the scandal has had on athletes preparing for next month’s Games, saying, “They’re frustrated and let down. Their confidence in WADA and the global anti-doping system has crumbled, rightfully so. I plead, on behalf of U.S. athletes: hold WADA and the global anti-doping system accountable. If we win, let it be because we earned it. And if we lose, let it be because the competition was fair.”

Phelps is expected to tell the lawmakers that the process is more proof that WADA does not enforce its rules equally across nations. He is set to express disappointment that he is once again testifying to Congress about WADA’s shortcomings, having appeared in front of the same committee in 2017.

“Sitting here once again, it is clear to me that any attempts of reform at WADA have fallen short, and there are still deeply rooted systemic problems that prove detrimental to the integrity of international sports and athletes right to fair competition, time and time again,” Phelps is expected to say.

CNN’s Amy Woodyatt, George Ramsay and Haley Talbot contributed to this report.

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