Chinese swimmers tested positive for doping before the Tokyo Games. GETTY IMAGES

The Chinese anti-doping agency followed the global watchdog’s lead on Friday and called out the American newspaper on Monday, deeming its follow-up reporting of the 23 swimmers’ positive test results from 2020 a “violation of media ethics”.

In a seemingly never-ending saga at the worst possible time, just about a month before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are scheduled to start, the World Anti-doping Agency decided to lash out at one of the most storied media outlets since the beginning of print journalism on Friday, after the Times revealed that WADA was a repeat offender in supposedly covering up the failed drug tests by the athletes that eventually represented China, both in Tokyo 2021 and Rio 2016.

After the weekend, the Asian country’s doping authorities joined the fray and hit back at the allegations that specified that three of its swimmers featured in the original doping scandal, who had failed drug tests showing traces of the heart enhancer trimetazidine, had also been involved in previous positive tests results in 2016 and 2017, this time for the steroid clenbuterol. In a statement sent to AFP, they argued that the Times had "misinterpreted the positive findings for clenbuterol caused by meat contamination as intentional doping by the athletes."

CHINADA alleged that the trio of swimmers, which included two 2021 Olympic gold medallists and a current world record holder, had ingested the substance inadvertently through contaminated meat, a theory harshly disputed by many in the sporting world, and most vehemently by the US Anti-doping agency, as well as American officials and athlete-led pressure groups.

"We have noticed the unauthorized disclosure of unpublished documents and information, and the privacy of the athletes (including minors) by media like the New York Times," CHINADA’s statement read. "This is a violation of the media ethics and morals, an attempt to mislead public understanding on anti-doping work and caused a severe damage on the reputation of WADA, CHINADA and the global anti-doping system.”

The Asian sporting giant, who has had a troubled history with doping, in fact followed the lead that had been set by WADA, when it called the Times’ coverage of the positive tests case “sensationalist and inaccurate”.

CHINADA has joined WADA in bashing The New York Times. GETTY IMAGES
CHINADA has joined WADA in bashing The New York Times. GETTY IMAGES

In response to a questionnaire sent by its reporters, the sports world’s policing body issued a statement on Friday in which it defended that “given the sensationalist and inaccurate way that the New York Times has covered the trimetazidine contamination cases of 23 Chinese swimmers from 2021, as well as the highly charged, politically motivated criticism of WADA and the global anti-doping system that followed, mainly from within the United States, WADA feels it is important to be able to describe the context and extent of clenbuterol contamination around the world so that people are not further misled,”

The agency went on to argue that clenbuterol, which is a prohibited substance in sport, is used in some countries as a growth promoter for farm animals and, under specific circumstances, can result in a positive sample from an athlete who consumes meat from animals treated in that way. The food contamination theory, which WADA had already alleged regarding the Tokyo 2021 positives, was again brought up in the 2016 case, as well as the notion that the amounts were insignificant. It was not made immediately clear, however, why said three cases were not made public at the time.

American swimmers expected to headline events at Paris 2024, like 100metre breaststroke world record-holder Lilly King, again expressed their disappointment in WADA’s mishandling of the doping scandal. "It's extremely frustrating for the athletes to always have in the back of our mind that maybe this sport's not fair,” King complained. “You know, when we put everything on the line, our privacy, really, everything that we do to compete with a level playing field, it's extremely frustrating to not have faith that others are doing the same thing."

China’s doping authorities, however, wanted to hear none of it on Monday, bashing the Times for what they deemed biased reporting an threatening to take the case to court if needed. "CHINADA deplores and rejects this and reserves its right to take legal action as appropriate against the New York Times and other media for their reports and statements that are contrary to basic facts," the statement concluded.