WADA issues fact sheet regarding Chinese doping scandal Getty Images

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has published a fact sheet outlining the procedures it undertook to reach the decision that the 23 Chinese swimmers, who had tested positive for trimetazidine (TMZ) in early 2021, would not face suspensions.

In the six-page document published on Monday, WADA detailed the procedure through which it became aware of the swimmers' positive tests and elucidated why it opted to endorse the no-fault decision issued by the China Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA). The fact sheet clarified that the positive samples were not analysed until March 2021, which was over two months after they were collected.

When CHINADA learned of the abnormal results in April, the agency promptly presented the theory of food contamination. This was due to the low levels of trimetazidine (TMZ) in the samples and the observation that swimmers from all around China only tested positive when staying at the same hotel for a competition.

The report further notes that swimmers who underwent multiple tests exhibited inconsistent results within a short span, a circumstance deemed incompatible with a doping scenario involving intentional ingestion or micro-dosing. WADA subsequently justifies its choice not to pursue an appeal against CHINADA's ruling, despite such incident causing public outrage.

According to the fact sheet, imposing a provisional suspension would have been merely a procedural step, effectively barring swimmers from participating in the Tokyo Olympics for a violation they were likely to be exonerated from. WADA, who continues to be backed with confidence, also notes that World Aquatics conducted an independent review and concurred with the conclusions. Additionally, a legal consultation concluded that an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was deemed unnecessary.

Controversy continues surrounding the Chinese swimmers at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. GETTY IMAGES
Controversy continues surrounding the Chinese swimmers at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. GETTY IMAGES

The fact sheet proceeds to outline the feedback received by WADA in subsequent years, as well as the rationale behind its continued support for its decision up to the present time. You can read a portion of the said document below.

  • Between 1 and 3 January 2021, the China Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA) collected 60 urine samples of Chinese swimmers at a national swimming meet. There were 201 swimmers competing. This event was not a qualifying event for the Olympic Games.
  • After certain delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the samples were reported into WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) by the WADA-accredited laboratory in Beijing on or around 15 March 2021. There were 28 Adverse Analytical Findings (AAFs) for the prohibited substance, trimetazidine (TMZ), involving 23 different swimmers, which means that a small number of them tested positive more than once.
  • In early April 2021, CHINADA informed WADA that it had initiated an investigation, involving the public health authorities, into the source of TMZ found in the samples. There were strong indicators that these cases could be a case of group contamination considering the following factors:
    • There were 23 swimmers, and 28 positive samples. All tested positive at the same time for TMZ at consistently very low levels (pg or low ng/mL range).
    • The swimmers were from different regions of China, with different coaches and from different swimming clubs.
    • The swimmers were in the same place at the same time when the positive samples arose.
    • A number of these swimmers were tested on multiple occasions during the swim meet. Some of them were tested on two or even three occasions on consecutive days. For several swimmers, the results varied from negative to positive within a few hours, which is not compatible with a doping scenario of deliberate ingestion nor with micro-dosing.
    • Some of the competing swimmers stayed in at least one other hotel. Three of those athletes were tested and none tested positive for TMZ.
  • Between January and June 2021 there were no international swimming competitions scheduled. Therefore, these athletes did not participate in any such competitions during that time period.
  • On 15 June 2021, WADA was notified of the decision by CHINADA to accept that 23 swimmers had tested positive in early 2021 for TMZ, after inadvertently being exposed to the substance through food/environment contamination as a result of TMZ detected in the kitchen (including spice containers, the extraction fan above the hob and the drains); and that, they would not move forward with Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) cases. This decision was also provided to World Aquatics (formerly FINA) at the same time as WADA, as required under the rules.
  • In order to determine whether WADA would exercise its right to appeal this decision, WADA carefully reviewed CHINADA’s decision and, on 21 June, WADA requested the full case file. World Aquatics also requested and received the exact same case file as WADA. They undertook their own review.
  • During its 21-day appeal deadline, WADA sent the case file to external counsel for their review and advice and to WADA’s Science Department to assess the case from a scientific perspective. Following thorough scientific investigation, including feedback from the manufacturer of TMZ, the feedback from WADA’s Science Department was ultimately that the contamination scenario was plausible and that there was no concrete scientific element to challenge it.
  • In early July, WADA received legal advice, drafted by a barrister from the UK, that an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was not warranted.
  • Based on all available scientific evidence and intelligence, which was gathered, assessed and tested by experts in the pharmacology of TMZ; and, by anti-doping experts, WADA had no basis under the World Anti-Doping Code to challenge CHINADA’s findings of environmental/food contamination – a position that was also reached by World Aquatics, which equally decided not to appeal the CHINADA decision.
  • In 2022, the International Testing Agency (ITA) contacted WADA in connection with a tip-off it had received suggesting that the Chinese swimmers’ sample results had been manipulated and/or not properly reported. WADA followed-up on these allegations and liaised with the ITA. Based on these investigations, there was no evidence whatsoever that the sample results had been manipulated or wrongly reported. Rather, the evidence clearly showed that the results had been properly reported by CHINADA. During its discussions with the ITA, WADA’s investigators liaised with investigators from the ITA, and invited WADA’s Science Department to explain its conclusions on the case (based on its review the previous year) to the ITA.
  • In April 2023, USADA’s investigation department contacted WADA Intelligence & Investigations (I&I) based on a tip-off that it had apparently received alleging that these cases had been hidden and that the informant/source claimed to possess evidence. WADA of course knew that the cases had not been hidden as it had reviewed them with World Aquatics in 2021 and discussed them with the ITA in 2022. WADA therefore advised USADA that it was aware of these cases, which had been reviewed by both its Legal and Science Departments. It made clear that if USADA had any new evidence, it would be willing to review the same and reassess its position, as well as interview USADA’s source. USADA did not respond, and no new evidence was provided.
  • WADA stands firmly by the results of its scientific investigation and legal decision concerning the case. We are equally confident that WADA’s independent I&I Department followed up on all allegations received, which were not corroborated by any evidence, and thus did not meet WADA I&I’s threshold to open an investigation.
  • To be clear, if any new evidence had come to light at any point, WADA would have reviewed this information. This remains the case today.

Read the full fact sheet and accompanying Frequently Asked Questions here.