Add legendary swimming icons Phelps, Schmitt to growing list of WADA critics

In a US Congress hearing on Tuesday in which they questioned the World Anti-Doping Agency’s handling of the 2021 Chinese swimming drugs scandal, the two great American swimming legends asked for significant reform at the global body’s core.

Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt issued their calls while testifying before a US Congressional oversight and investigations subcommittee hearing in Washington.

Along with US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief executive Travis Tygart, both took aim at WADA over the recent revelations concerning 23 Chinese swimmers who tested positive for banned prescription heart medication trimetazidine (TMZ) in early 2021.

None of the 23 swimmers were suspended or sanctioned after WADA accepted the explanation of Chinese authorities that the results were caused by food contamination at a hotel where they had stayed together.

In separate revelations published by The New York Times last week, it emerged that three of the swimmers — including two 2021 Tokyo Olympic gold medallists and a current world record holder — tested positive for banned substances several years earlier.

WADA has rejected charges from USADA that it engaged in a cover-up, and China has denied any wrongdoing in the matter. However Phelps and Schmitt hit out at WADA’s handling of the case, saying trust in the body amongst athletes had been damaged by the scandal.

Phelps, 38, winner of a record 23 Olympic gold medals during five Olympic Games appearances, compared the current situation to 2017, when he last called for WADA reforms in a hearing before US lawmakers over the 2014 Russia doping scandal.

“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 said. “I urge 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 said “close friends” had been potentially impacted by the decision to allow the Chinese swimmers who failed tests in 2021 to compete at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics. “Many of them will live with the ‘what ifs’ for the rest of their lives,” Phelps said. “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.”

Schmitt was a member of the US 4x200m freestyle relay team that took silver in Tokyo behind China. That race was one of five events in which Chinese swimmers among the 23 who tested positive for TMZ won medals.

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