WADA asks independent prosecutor to investigate Chinese swimmers' case. GETTY IMAGES

 The World Anti-Doping Agency wants a separate prosecutor to investigate the case of the 23 swimmers who failed doping tests and will send a "compliance audit team" to China to evaluate its anti-doping program. USADA considers the action insufficient and calls for another independent investigation.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been under fire since the weekend, when American and German media reported that 23 Chinese swimmers had tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug trimetazidine (TMZ) ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. However, no sanctions were imposed after WADA accepted the Chinese authorities' argument that the case was due to food contamination.

Since then, WADA has been trying to provide more transparency in the case and on Thursday announced its intention to appoint an independent prosecutor to review the handling of the Chinese swimmers' doping scandal. All of them allegedly used the same prescribed heart medication, the reports said.

The organisation will also send a "compliance audit team" to China to "assess the current state of the country's anti-doping programme". The unit will be led by the local anti-doping agency CHINADA, a decision that United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) considered “interesting”. Its president, Travis Tygart, has been openly critical of WADA’s handling of the positive tests and originally described the situation as a "potential cover-up".

The USADA wants all investigations to be published. WADA
The USADA wants all investigations to be published. WADA

 WADA president Witold Banka did not hold back. "We have asked former Swiss prosecutor Eric Cottier to review our handling of the case. The integrity and reputation of WADA is under attack. In recent days, WADA has been unfairly accused of serious bias in favour of China by not appealing the CHINADA case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” the statement said.  “We continue to reject these false accusations. We are pleased to be able to put these matters in the hands of an experienced, respected and independent prosecutor".

The global doping agency said Cottier would have "full and unrestricted" access to all its files and documents relating to the case. It added that he would be free to consult with any independent experts he deems appropriate; a manoeuvre designed to shed light on the criticism WADA received, not to hide from it. Cottier has been asked to assess whether there was any bias against China or "undue interference or other irregularities" in the handling of the case.

The Swiss lawyer will also be asked to determine whether the decision not to challenge or appeal the CHINADA verdict, which involved contaminated food, was reasonable. An analysis will be requested to see if there is any justification for this decision.

Cottier, who served as attorney general of the canton of Vaud in Switzerland for 17 years before retiring in 2022 and was previously a judge, has been asked to present his findings within two months. This is the timeframe set to shed light on the matter with the intention of resolving everything before the start of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The team travelling to China will also include "independent auditors from the anti-doping community at large".

Meanwhile, WADA has assured that this visit, which will now be carried out at an accelerated pace, is part of its regular compliance monitoring programme, according to WADA director general Olivier Niggli. "Although no evidence has been provided to support any of the allegations made against WADA, we want to address the issue as quickly and comprehensively as possible so that it is properly dealt with ahead of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris, “Niggli said.

WADA admitted it had received requests for review from a "small number of interested parties", while USADA called for a significant reform of WADA on Tuesday, urging "governments and sports governing bodies to reform WADA to ensure that the cover-up of positive samples on the eve of the Olympic Games does not happen again. On Thursday, the American agency responded again, insisting that WADA's latest statement "exemplifies the problem with the current system. By calling this an 'independent' investigation, WADA leaders are trying to deceive us".

The statement underlined that "the world's athletes deserve a truly independent review commission with a broad scope of review, consisting of an independent athlete representative and impartial legal experts with recognised anti-doping expertise, appointed by government consensus, rather than a WADA handpicked lawyer with a limited and self-serving scope of review”.

USADA also felt that “a truly independent investigation also requires an on-the-ground fact-finding mission in China regarding this case, including interviews with hotel staff, athletes, coaches, etc. (not just a CHINADA compliance audit that should have been conducted in 2021), whistleblower immunity including for WADA and CHINADA employees, full access to all internal WADA and CHINADA emails, and raw laboratory data in China." "All findings and the documents on which they are based should also be a matter of public record".

Beijing has dismissed reports of the case as "fake news".