German minister, swim body call for probe in Chinese swimmers' case

Nancy Faeser German Minister of the Interior, gives a statement in Saarbruecken on the suspected agents with links to Russia who have been arrested in Bavaria. Harald Tittel/dpa
Nancy Faeser German Minister of the Interior, gives a statement in Saarbruecken on the suspected agents with links to Russia who have been arrested in Bavaria. Harald Tittel/dpa

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has called for a rigorous investigation after the news broke that 23 Chinese swimmers failed doping tests ahead of the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, where several of them competed after all were cleared.

Faeser, who's also responsible for sports, told dpa on Sunday that the news has shaken confidence in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the global fight against cheating in elite sport in the run-up to this summer's Paris Olympics.

"Just a few months before the Olympic Games, the suspicion the case was ignored or even covered up must be fully investigated as quickly as possible. If there's such a serious suspicion of doping, then it must be independently investigated by WADA," Faeser said.

"If confirmed that Chinese swimmers were able to become Olympic champions in Tokyo despite previous evidence of doping, that would be a disaster for world sport," she added. "This case is a slap in the face of all innocent and honest athletes."

German broadcasters ARD, the New York Times and Australian paper Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday that the swimmers tested positive for the banned heart medication trimetazidine (TMZ) at a domestic competition in Shijiazhuang in early 2021.

The reports based on receiving a Chinese report last September said that China's anti-doping agency CHINADA reported the cases to the swimming governing body World Aquatics, then FINA, and WADA at the time.

No sanctions were imposed because the positive tests were deemed to come from contamination after China said its investigators found traces of TMZ in various areas of the kitchen were the meals for the athletes had been prepared.

WADA and FINA said they were satisfied with the Chinese explanation, and the swimmers were cleared to continue competing in June 2021 in a case that never became public at the time.

A 30-strong Chinese team, including 13 of the 23 with positive tests accortding to the reports, went on to win six medals in Tokyo, including three gold medals.

The German swimming ruling body DSV said that the report is concerning and that it "reminds us that transparency is an indispensable part of the anti-doping fight.

"Any lack of it not only shakes the trust in individual institutions, but also in the credibility of the entire sport," DSV sporting directori Christian Hansmann said on Sunday.

The DSV is calling for a comprehensive review of all events and, if necessary, consequences.

WADA on Saturday dismissed speculation it did not respond properly to the positive tests.

It said it was unable to investigate in China due to coronavirus restrictions at the time, but conducted an extensive review whether the Chinese decision was credible, coming to the conclusion "that there was no concrete basis to challenge the asserted contamination."

The news led to criticism from various other sides than Germany, including from American anti-doping agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart, which WADA refuted in two statements.

WADA named Tygart's remarks "outrageous, completely false and defamatory" and said it had "no choice but to refer this matter to its legal counsel for further action." It said it was also considering legal action in connection with "misleading and potentially defamatory media coverage."

There have been other doping cases involving TMZ, most notably that of young Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva whose positive test in December 2021 was announced during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Valieva was later banned for four years.