WADA president Witold Banka during a symposium in Lausanne. GETTY IMAGES

Again citing "no credible evidence of wrongdoing” in the handling of the positive tests of 23 swimmers from China before Tokyo 2021, World Anti-Doping Agency president Witold Banka referenced the case of Sun Yang, currently serving a four-year ban, and reprimanded “politically motivated” USADA.

In a media conference held late Mondayin Montreal, WADA addressedwhat it deemed “the environmental contamination case” of nearly half the Chinese Swimming Team that was allowed to compete in the last Olympic Games, despite having previously tested positive for a banned substance, The national supervising organisation alleged at the time that food contamination was the motive for the failed tests; an explanation that WADA currently stands by. “We had no credible way to disprove the contamination theory,” prosecutor Ross Wenzel told reporters during the online presser.

Travis Tygart, the United States Anti-Doping Agency president, had accused WADA and the Chinese anti-doping body of having "secretly, until now, swept these positives under the carpet" and called the situation a "potential cover-up". WADA emphasized once again that there was no political pressure to drop the case, acknowledged the rising tide of backlash from international federations and athlete-led pressure groups and detailed that the supposed contamination originated from spice containers in the kitchenof the hotel where some, but not all, of the swimmers stayedduring a meet in January 2021.

The New York Times and German broadcaster ARD had reported during the weekend that the 23 athletes allegedly benefited from a cover-up by local officials and lack of intervention from the international governing body. The global outrage was evident, with USADA leading the charge, considering news of the failed tests "crushing" and WADA's response "a devastating stab in the back of clean athletes".

After threatening USADA with legal action, and China’s own dismissal of the doping scandal as “fake news”, Banka reiterated on Monday that WADA would take "whatever action necessary" in response to the allegations and that "no credible evidence of wrongdoing was provided by any source who came forward on this file, so the threshold for WADA intelligence to open an investigation was not met." He also agued that an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), challenging the Chinese anti-doping body’s (CHINADA) ruling would have been “unwarranted”.

Two-time gold medallist Zhang Yufei, among others, therefore competed in the Olympics and went on to win medals. Three-time Olympic champion Sun Yang, however, did not after being suspended for refusing to give a blood sample to officials and tampering with a doping control, according to CAS. Wanda referenced this fact during the Montreal news conference in order to dismount the growing theory that WADA was “soft on Chinese athletes,”  and underlined that it had been “vigorously pursuing justice” in the Sun case. His ban, which expires next month, registers as his second offence, as he was first sanctioned in 2014 for taking trimetazidine (TMZ), the same drug featured in the current scandal. 

"I have to say that from our perspective, look(ing) at the comments on social media and the official statements from USADA, it is obvious that most of the comments are politically motivated and without any evidence that there was something, on our side, wrong," Banka sniped. The WADA boss insisted there was no credible way to disprove the contamination theory, which had alsobeenaccepted by World Aquatics. "In short, if we had taken such an appeal and challenged the contamination explanation, we would certainly have lost. If we had to do it over again now, we would do exactly the same thing," he deadpanned.

US National Drug Control Policy director, Dr. Rahul Gupta, insisted to The Times that an independent investigation into WADA's handling of the matter was needed. "There must be rigorous, independent investigations to look into any incident of potential wrongdoing," he said. After the likes USADA, Global Athlete and Athleten Deutshcland, Drug Free Sport New Zealand was the most recent association to express concerns over the media reports. “There are questions about the approach of CHINADA that need answers,” DFSNZ said in a statement on Tuesday. “There are also questions about the oversight of WADA, the global regulator on whom we all rely to maintain transparency and consistency. On all these, we await further investigation and information, particularly as it relates to the provisional suspension of athletes and the public reporting of violations - two important tenets of anti-doping work”.