WADA decision not to appeal Chinese swimming cases "indisputably reasonable." WADA

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) held an extraordinary Executive Committee meeting to discuss the Interim Report of the Independent Prosecutor, Eric Cottier, regarding his review of WADA's handling of the China Anti-Doping Agency's (CHINADA) no-fault contamination case involving 23 swimmers in 2021.

During the virtual ExCo meeting, Eric Cottier took members through his interim report, which included his conclusions on two issues, as outlined below: 

1. Is there any indication of bias towards China, undue interference or other impropriety in WADA's assessment of CHINADA's decision not to pursue anti-doping rule violations against the 23 Chinese swimmers?     

-There is nothing in the file - which is complete - to suggest that WADA showed favouritism, deference or in any way favoured the 23 swimmers who tested positive for Trimetazidine (TMZ) between 1 and 3 January 2021, when it reviewed CHINADA's decision to close the case against them without further action. 

-The Investigator found no evidence to suggest any interference or meddling in WADA's review, as described above, either within the Agency or externally, by any entity or institution, including CHINADA or the Chinese authorities. 

-The investigation did not reveal any irregularities on the part of WADA in its review of the CHINADA decision; this review was detailed and covered all relevant issues in deciding whether or not to appeal the decision. 

2. Based on a review of the case file related to the decision by CHINADA not to bring forward Anti-Doping Rule Violations against the 23 Chinese swimmers, as well as all other elements available to WADA, was its decision not to challenge on appeal the contamination scenario presented by CHINADA reasonable? 

Eric Cottier supported WADA in his Independent Interim Report. GETTY IMAGES
Eric Cottier supported WADA in his Independent Interim Report. GETTY IMAGES

-All the elements taken into account by WADA, whether they came from the file submitted by CHINADA with its decision or from the investigative procedures that it carried out, show the decision not to appeal to be reasonable, both from the point of view of the facts and from the point of view of the applicable rules. 

While ExCo members had questions for Mr. Cottier, the Committee thanked him for the thorough and expeditious manner in which the review had been carried out in order to provide high-level results in advance of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The ExCo welcomed the conclusions of Mr. Cottier's interim report and stated that they looked forward to receiving his final, reasoned report in the coming weeks. 

WADA President Witold Banka said, "WADA is pleased that the Executive Committee has welcomed the conclusions of the Independent Prosecutor's interim report on the Chinese swimming case. Based on the Interim Report and its discussion with Mr. Cottier, the Executive Committee was satisfied that he had access to all the elements he needed to reach his conclusions that WADA did not show bias towards China and that its decision not to appeal the swimming case was "indisputably reasonable" based on the evidence." 

"As the report captures, WADA reviewed this case with a healthy scepticism, as it does in all such cases. It was very important that we set the record straight in this regard, particularly on these two fundamental questions ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games." 

"Now that the Independent Prosecutor has confirmed that there was no impropriety in WADA's handling of the case, the Agency will consider what measures can be taken against those who have made untrue and potentially defamatory allegations. They have been extremely damaging to WADA's reputation and to the confidence and trust that athletes and other stakeholders have in the Agency and the global anti-doping system." 

Witold Banka is the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA
Witold Banka is the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA

"Instead of allowing WADA to engage in substantive discussions about procedures based on rules of law and legal provisions, the Agency has been subjected to manipulation and attempts to create the impression that normal cooperation with Chinese stakeholders as the global regulator is somehow proof of bias towards China," the reelected WADA President concluded. 

The Independent Prosecutor's review covered everything that he considered essential. To facilitate his review, Mr. Cottier was granted full and unfettered access to all of WADA's files and documents relating to this matter, which amounted to thousands of pages. He questioned WADA employees on several occasions and carried out three expert assessments, one scientific, one legal and one forensic - the latter from the Forensic Institute of the University of Lausanne. 

WADA Senior Director, Science and Medicine, Olivier Rabin, said, "From a scientific point of view, it is important to examine all the aspects of the file to ensure that the explanation of the origin of the banned substance is a credible one. In this case, a thorough review of all the verifiable facts of the case revealed no evidence to challenge the contamination scenario. Rather, all the available evidence pointed to accidental contamination. The Independent Prosecutor has confirmed that our conclusions were reasonable, based on the evidence." 

WADA's General Counsel, Ross Wenzel, said, "For WADA's challenge to the contamination scenario to be successful at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, it would have had to convince the Tribunal that the athletes had not established the contamination scenario on the balance of probabilities (i.e. >50%), which the available evidence did not allow. WADA would have lost such an appeal and, accordingly, the clear advice was not to proceed. Indeed, the Independent Prosecutor agreed that WADA's chances of winning such an appeal were "if not nil, at least almost non-existent". 

"If WADA had appealed, despite accepting that the athletes were contaminated through no fault of their own, the appeal would not have been decided until well after the Tokyo Games, would not have prevented the athletes from competing at the Games, and would not have resulted in any publication before then. So far, no credible evidence has emerged that would allow this case to be reopened and for the decision that this was a case of contamination to be challenged.  However, as WADA has always said, if such evidence is presented to WADA, we will carefully consider it." 

Eric Cottier has done an intensive job in a record time. GETTY IMAGES
Eric Cottier has done an intensive job in a record time. GETTY IMAGES

WADA Director General, Olivier Niggli, said, "The Independent Prosecutor's Interim Report has cleared WADA of any wrongdoing. Mr. Cottier will now work over the coming weeks to conclude his final reasoned report, which we will discuss in more detail with the Executive Committee in September. This is very timely as the World Anti-Doping Code and International Standards, which are developed and owned by the anti-doping community, are currently undergoing a two-year stakeholder review." 

WADA Athlete Council Chair and ExCo member Ryan Pini said, "I wish to thank Mr. Cottier for the urgency of his Report. It is reassuring to read about the experts consulted and the processes that were followed to ensure that the review of this complex case would be comprehensive, detailed and transparent. I hope that this Report and the detailed annex will provide reassurance to athletes, especially particularly in the run-up to Paris 2024." 

The decision to appoint Cottier was endorsed by WADA's ExCo on 25 April, following requests for such a review from a small number of stakeholders. The 16-member ExCo is made up of independent members as well as athletes, governments from all regions of the world, and the sports movement, representing their respective constituencies.   

Independent of WADA, the sports movement and governments, Cottier is a prosecutor with 39 years of experience who served as the Attorney General of the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, from September 2005 until his retirement in December 2022. Previously, he was a public prosecutor from 1984 to 1991, President of the 2nd District Court of Vevey and Lavaux from 1991 to 1998 and a cantonal court judge from 1999 to 2005. 

He was Special Federal Prosecutor in Switzerland from 2016 to 2018 and currently a member of the Board of the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law and a member of a working group of the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), an independent intergovernmental organisation based in Rome.