Why WADA did not sanction any Chinese swimmer but did sanction the Russian Kamila Valieva
Juan Antonio Belmar
May 6, 2024

Doping never stops, it is waiting for the moment to attack and add athletes who do not have the conviction that through their talents and efforts they can achieve their goals and seek -through banned substances- to cheat in sport to achieve their goal, despite the imminent risk they run if detected with doping.

This introduction I am making is not a paraphrase, it is a reality that makes many uncomfortable, it is a borderline area, where efforts will never be enough to bend those who promote this vile business of doping in the world, if we are not able from within to produce the changes and apply the World Anti-Doping Code accordingly, no matter who it hurts.

One of the cases that has had more media coverage in the last two weeks is the alleged doping of 23 Chinese swimmers in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020+1 Olympic Games with trimetazine (TMZ). Surprisingly at least, none of the swimmers were sanctioned despite testing positive. There are multiple theses on this, but none can be on what WADA promotes, i.e., “To oversee anti-doping compliance in sport globally. To ensure that sport remains safe for all participants, as well as, to promote the health of athletes and the spirit of sport by providing an ethical framework for clean sport.”

After understanding the alignments that the World Anti-Doping Agency has and how it works collegially with National Olympic Committees, national and international sports federations, government agencies and other bodies attached to the organization, it is difficult to understand and comprehend how it handled this particular case. It is striking that WADA had the information of 23 positive cases on March 15, 2021, when the Beijing Laboratory, duly accredited by WADA, sends to the administration and management system (ADAMS) of the World Agency the samples with 28 positive in TMZ, belonging to 23 swimmers.

Now, the procedure establishes that a provisional suspension be applied immediately for the duration of the investigation by CHINADA, which is the body that holds these powers. In other parts of the world, athletes with an adverse result, while waiting for the counter-sample, are banned from all competitions inside and outside their country.

Why were the Chinese swimmers not subjected to the same procedure, regardless of whether it was mass doping or contamination by food consumption? There are multiple answers to this question, but that moment with the coronavirus (COVID-19) brought the world to its knees with more than 6.3 million deaths, so it was unthinkable to travel to Beijing and investigate on the ground what happened to the swimmers. The Chinese authorities can also be trusted with the thesis of a massive contamination that only occurred in that hotel. The answers and arguments of WADA not provisionally sanctioning these 23 athletes, several of them Olympic medalists in Tokyo 2020+1, left the door open to question the procedures that apply with different criteria to some and others and, most delicate, puts a trail of doubts on the credibility of an organization that by its nature should ensure that sport and the application of its regulations and codes are the same for all athletes. It is striking that WADA did not make it public at any time until it appears in the international media denouncing this serious fact, serious because of its implications and the message it leaves to the rest of the athletes in the world.

THE SIMILAR – AND OPPOSITE – CASE OF KAMILA VALIEVA

The case of the Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, sanctioned for doping and the substance found in her body was trimetazidine (TMZ), the same substance used by Chinese swimmers, comes to mind. Valieva’s explanation is striking, that it was an accident while preparing a fruit dessert. On December 25, 2021, she consumed a fruit preparation that was contaminated with a medication that his grandfather took for her heart. I must admit that both theses may have a degree of validity, but they continue to surprise the world of Olympic sport and the athletes themselves in general, because on the one hand both cases are measured and qualified in diametrically opposite ways, with a massive doping without sanction and a young athlete of 15 years of Russian nationality punished in an exemplary manner with 4 years by WADA.

Several sporting bodies have raised their voices, including Global Athlete, an athlete advocacy group led by former WADA executive Rob Koehler, which issued a statement attacking WADA for not disclosing positive tests and for not providing more transparency and releasing all evidence. “The alleged failures exposed in recent days undermine the entire global system of fair and clean sport. When leadership fails to comply with and enforce the rules, athletes are let down, their livelihoods are at risk, and they lose the ability to succeed through talent, hard work and perseverance,” he said.

Something is not right, it is noisy to listen to the explanations and rationale of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is why it appointed a few days ago Eric Vottier, a former Swiss prosecutor, who will conduct a thorough review and investigation of WADA’s handling of the Chinese swimmers’ doping case. The idea is to show and prove that the protocols were activated, independent of placing trust in the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA).

At the end of this SportsIn editorial I still think that sport, despite all these vicissitudes, scandals, allegations and partisan selfishness, is the engine that moves us, that inspires us to build a better society, where fair play, doping-free culture, fair play, solidarity with others, will show us the true path to compete for our own dreams.

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