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Olympians implore Congress to act on doping as games approach

Swimmers Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt warn of uneven enforcement by World Anti-Doping Agency

Olympic swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps takes his seat to testify during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on “Examining Anti-Doping Measures in Advance of the 2024 Olympics” in the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday.
Olympic swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps takes his seat to testify during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on “Examining Anti-Doping Measures in Advance of the 2024 Olympics” in the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

One month before the start of the 2024 Paris Olympics, two of the most decorated Olympic swimmers in American history, Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt, told House lawmakers that the international body in charge of preventing doping in the Olympics isn’t doing its job.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which is in charge of drug testing in international sporting events, has been mired in controversy for years. In April, the agency confirmed whistleblower reports that nearly two dozen Chinese swimmers tested positive for the banned medication trimetazidine before the delayed 2020 Olympics, but were allowed to compete without punishment.

“Confidence in WADA and the global anti-doping system has crumbled, rightfully so,” said Schmitt, who holds 10 Olympic medals, during the Tuesday evening hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Congress appropriated $3.7 million to the international anti-doping organization in fiscal 2024 and the White House has requested $3.84 million for fiscal 2025. The U.S. is one of 190 countries to support the international agency, which is tasked with monitoring and complying with international anti-doping standards. The president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Witold Banka, was invited to the hearing but declined to attend.

“Their refusal to appear today calls into question his commitment to accountability, ” said Subcommittee Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va. “And perhaps if they’re not going to do their job, we shouldn’t be funding them.”

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, told lawmakers U.S. funding to the international anti-doping organization should be conditioned on transparency and independence.

Trimetazidine, the drug used by the accused Chinese athletes, is a drug found in heart medication. It can increase blood flow efficiency and improve endurance, but is not designed for athletes.

This is not the first time the drug has been at the center of a doping scandal: Russian Olympic figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for the drugs at the 2022 Beijing Games, where she helped her team win the gold medal — a victory that the International Olympic Committee later nullified.

The Chinese anti-doping agency defended its swimmers, saying they’d been inadvertently exposed to the banned drug via their hotel kitchen. The World Anti-Doping Agency accepted the excuse, did not make the allegation public, did not conduct an investigation and did not suspend the Chinese athletes.

Eleven of the Chinese swimmers involved in the doping scandal plan to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics, and the World Anti-Doping Agency said it plans to send a compliance team to check on the Chinese anti-doping program.

But American Olympians stressed it isn’t enough.

“I urge Congress to use its considerable leverage with WADA to make the organization independent and effective. It can’t reasonably be a coincidence that WADA has yet again succumbed to the pressures of international sport to do the expedient at the expense of the athlete,” Phelps said.

Phelps and Schmitt recalled being tested at random multiple times per week by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Both athletes said they took the tests, even if they were invasive, because it ensured a fair playing field.

Other countries have different testing protocols than the U.S., Phelps and Schmitt told the committee, even though the World Anti-Doping Agency is supposed to set those standards.

“Russia and China are too big to fail in their eyes and they get a different set of rules,” Tygart told Rep. Brett Guthrie when the Kentucky Republican asked him about why the World Anti-Doping Agency doesn’t enforce its rules equally.

In May, bipartisan top members of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party called on the Department of Justice and the International Olympic Committee to launch a formal inquiry into the Chinese doping scandal to see if it was state-sponsored.

Phelps also testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee in 2017, calling for meaningful overhaul to ensure a fair playing field.

He told the panel Tuesday night that attempts to overhaul the World Anti-Doping Agency in the last seven years have fallen short, and there are “still deeply rooted systemic problems” that tarnish the integrity of international sports.

It’s too late for change before the Paris games, the U.S. anti-doping agency representative told the panel. But Tygart told lawmakers that it’s imperative they take on the issue as soon as possible because the U.S. is slated to host many international sporting events in the next 10 years, including the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and potentially the 2034 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.