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Olympic Champion Swimmers Address Congress on Loss of Trust in US Anti-Doping Oversight

U.S. Olympic athletes have expressed disillusionment with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s ability to combat cheating in their sports ahead of the upcoming Summer Games in Paris, as revealed by two former gold medalists during a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday night.

Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt testified following reports this spring that 23 Chinese swimmers had tested positive for a banned heart medication before the 2021 Tokyo Olympics but were permitted by WADA to participate. Five of these swimmers subsequently won medals, including three golds.

Phelps, the most decorated swimmer in history with 23 Olympic gold medals, and Schmitt, a four-time gold medalist who competed in the closely contested 800-meter freestyle relay against China in Tokyo, both emphasized their commitment to fair play and expressed concerns over the impact of doping on their sport.

“We trained rigorously and followed all protocols. Accepting our defeat graciously, many of us are haunted by doubts about whether doping influenced our podium outcomes,” Schmitt said.

Eleven of the Chinese swimmers who tested positive in Tokyo are slated to compete again in Paris.

Phelps, accompanied by his wife Nicole and infant son Nico, nodded in agreement as congressional members criticized WADA’s handling of doping issues and called for greater transparency in Olympic competition.

Expressing frustration, Phelps noted that little had changed since his previous testimony seven years ago regarding WADA’s response to state-sponsored doping by Russia.

“It is evident to me that efforts to reform WADA have fallen short, and deep-rooted systemic issues continue to undermine the integrity of international sports and athletes’ rights to fair competition,” Phelps stated.

WADA accepted the conclusion of Chinese anti-doping officials that the 23 swimmers ingested the banned substance through contaminated food at a hotel. However, independent anti-doping experts, including U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, have criticized this explanation as implausible.

Responding to criticisms, WADA President Witold Banka declined to testify, addressing assertions of bias towards China as unsubstantiated and underscoring WADA’s impartial stance in global sport governance.

In response to ongoing scrutiny, WADA appointed Swiss prosecutor Eric Cottier to conduct an independent review of its handling of the China case, aiming to address concerns over potential conflicts of interest.

Tygart urged the U.S. to condition future funding for WADA on comprehensive agency reforms, a proposition endorsed by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers seeking accountability in international anti-doping efforts.

“We must ensure our funding serves its intended purpose. Threatening or suspending funding can catalyze transparency and truth,” Tygart asserted.

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