World Aquatics slammed by own independent anti-doping expert over Chinese swimmers case.

Bill Bock, a member of World Aquatics' independent Anti-Doping Advisory Body (ADAB), says ADAB has been "inexplicably and forcibly shut out of the review" concerning positive tests from 23 Chinese swimmers ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

ADAB is part of the Aquatics Integrity Unit (AQIU), an operationally independent unit of World Aquatics (formerly FINA) which "handles all integrity-related matters in Aquatics, including ethical breaches, harassment and abuse, betting-related issues, result manipulation and anti-doping (in collaboration with the International Testing Agency)".

Last month, the New York Times and German broadcaster ARD reported that 23 Chinese swimmers had given 28 positive tests for trimetazidine (TMZ) in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020. They alleged that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and FINA had failed to follow standard protocols when the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency (Chinada) concluded the banned substance was ingested unintentionally and that the swimmers would not be sanctioned.

At the start of May, World Aquatics announced it had appointed a five-person anti-doping audit review committee, including two members of the AQIU Supervisory Council, Olympic champion Florent Manaudou and Paralympic gold medallist Annabelle Williams. In a strongly-worded letter, Bock - the lead lawyer for the US Anti-Doping Agency in its case against cyclist Lance Armstrong - called that "odd" given "the World Aquatics Constitution has already established an independent expert monitoring body for anti-doping matters known as the ADAB".

He continued, "The ADAB, of which I am a member, is a group of independent anti-doping experts specifically appointed to independently monitor, review, and evaluate any and all anti-doping integrity matters within international aquatics sport. The five current ADAB members collectively have more than 100 years of professional experience in anti-doping, which is why we were appointed to be independent monitors. However, the ADAB has been inexplicably and forcibly shut out of the review of what happened with the 28 AAFs in 2021.

"Within days of the concerning media reports about the 28 AAFs the members of the ADAB did our job. We specifically requested relevant documents from World Aquatics and set a meeting with Justin Lessard, FINA’s Legal Manager in 2021, to obtain background information regarding what happened in 2021. However, from the start, World Aquatics declined to provide the ADAB the documents we requested and needed to conduct our review. For weeks we engaged in back-and-forth correspondence with World Aquatics insiders who have sought to justify the unjustifiable - which is that the independent experts who are constitutionally mandated to independently monitor all anti-doping matters at World Aquatics have been unequivocally shut out of the anti-doping review process.

"If provided the relevant documents, the members of the independent ADAB have the experience and familiarity with the relevant anti-doping rules and procedures to understand what should have happened. We know what documents should exist, and our professional anti-doping background is likely to be essential to getting to the bottom of what transpired."

Bock also derided the audit review committee as containing "no anti-doping professional, no one who has personally led an international anti-doping investigation, and no one who apparently possesses relevant scientific expertise".

The American reserved special scorn for the two members of the AQIU Supervisory Council - chair Miguel Cardenal Carro and vice-chair Ken Lalo - stating, "Their actions have undermined the credibility of the very entity, the AQIU, that they are supposed to participate in leading at arm’s length and independently from World Aquatics."

In the letter, Bock urged World Aquatics to release the Chinada report publicly on their website along with all related data, attachments and communications between WADA and FINA concerning the decision to take no action against the Chinese swimmers. He also said ADAB should receive all documents and data related to the handling of the 28 positive tests, adding, "The time is now for a new approach that chooses transparency over half-answers and half-truths that only raise more questions."

He added that, in 2021 after the incident took place, FINA's legal team chose not to seek review by its independent panel of scientific experts, the Doping Control Board (DCRB). Bock says the legal team only passed limited questions to the DCRB's chair Dr Jordi Segura - without showing him all the documents - who then "produced a conclusory 2-page report that plainly did not address all of the scientific issues in the case".

Bock went on to criticise World Aquatics Executive Director Brent Nowicki saying that, while ADAB were trying to perform their expert monitoring duties following the New York Times and ARD stories, they "were met with a brick wall of refusals communicated by Mr Nowicki, Mr Cardenal, and by Aquatics Integrity Unit Senior Manager (and FINA Legal Manager in 2021) Justin Lessard".

World Aquatics Executive Director Brent Nowicki with anti-doping audit review committee member Annabelle Williams. GETTY IMAGES
World Aquatics Executive Director Brent Nowicki with anti-doping audit review committee member Annabelle Williams. GETTY IMAGES

He concluded, "World Aquatics is needlessly asserting confidentiality over documents that should not have been hidden from the public. World Aquatics’ secretive conduct only fuels the reasonable concerns of athletes about how this matter has been handled. Accordingly, stakeholders and athletes preparing to compete in the upcoming Paris Olympic Games have no reason for confidence that integrity matters connected to the 28 AAFs from 2021 are being appropriately investigated.

"World Aquatics should immediately bring forward each of the 28 AAFs as anti-doping rule violation cases. These cases should be brought by the ITA and, if necessary, expedited for final decisions on eligibility to be reached in advance of the Paris Olympic Games."

Responding in The Times of London, World Aquatics said, "Given the significant volume of misleading and inaccurate claims in Mr Bock’s submission, it’s impossible for World Aquatics to comment on each and every complaint. Needless to say, World Aquatics vehemently rejects Mr Bock’s submission in its entirety."

The anti-doping audit review committee is expected to submit their report by the end of May with World Aquatics "confident in their capabilities".