China faces Wada probe after allegations of doping cover-ups

Participants gather before the World Anti-Doping Agency Symposium for Anti-Doping Organizations in Switzerland, on March 24, 2015.
Participants gather before the World Anti-Doping Agency Symposium for Anti-Doping Organizations in Switzerland, on March 24, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

Whistle-blowers call for action by Wada as they allege national body concealed five failed tests

LONDON • Chinese swimming is being investigated over claims five positive drug tests were hidden, according to The Times of London.

The newspaper revealed yesterday that whistle-blowers within Chinese swimming approached it saying that tests had been covered up to avoid a storm before the Olympic trials next month.

They asked that the information be passed on to the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), which is now investigating.

Two tests are believed to have been failed in October and the other three at the turn of the year.

This discovery comes as Fina, swimming's governing body, and Wada vowed to investigate Wednesday's revelations that Russia had for years undertaken systematic doping in swimming and covered up test results.

The Chinese whistle-blowers, who were unable to contact Wada because of state surveillance, are desperate for outside help, according to The Times.

It quoted one intermediary of a source as saying: "People in Chinese swimming really want Wada to ask for the truth to be told. Our pools are awash with rumours of bad things. There's a lot of fear."

The news comes amid reports in China, who came second in the swimming medal table at London 2012, that disgraced coach Zhou Ming is back in business.

A mastermind of the 1990s China crisis, Zhou is said to have been working with swimmers in Tianjin.

His presence sparked questions in China such as that sent to The Times: "What is the Chinese Swimming Association doing about it? The Chinese Swimming Association must know about the rumours running through the sport here."

Zhou is not officially connected to the national programme these days but his name raises concerns in China and beyond.

He was one of the head coaches to the 1990s squad of teenagers fed a diet of steroids, diuretics and other banned substances and was banned for life by the Chinese and Fina in 1998 during the World Championships in Perth.

That was after some of his swimmers tested positive on the eve of competition and in the wake of Customs officers seizing 13 vials of human growth hormone from an athlete's kit-bag when the team passed through Sydney airport.

When Zhou reappeared poolside in China in 2005, the Chinese Swimming Association responded to questions about his life ban with a statement that his suspension period had not been for life but "eight years". That would have meant a 2006 return at the earliest.

The Chinese Swimming Association has made no comment about The Times report.

The boards of the World Swimming Coaches Association and American Swimming Coaches Association said: "We call on Wada to extend its inquiries to all nations sounding the kind of alarm bells we hear tolling from the likes of Russia and China.

"Zhou Ming is a name well known to coaches who lived through the crisis of the 1990s. He is a rogue who ought never to be allowed to work with children."

Those in Chinese swimming crying out for Wada's intervention do so at a time of heightened sensitivity. Last November, China was rocked by the death of Qing Wenyi, 17. Less than three weeks after she claimed both girls' breaststroke titles at the China Youth Games, the teenager collapsed and died at a national team camp in Beijing.

There are also concerns in Australia, where many Chinese swimmers train, about how often drug tests are being carried out.

Grant Hackett, the Olympic 1,500m freestyle champion in 2000 and 2004 who is on the comeback trail, said he believed some of the Chinese swimmers training in Australia had been approached for a sample once in 18 months - and only because Swimming Australia pressed the matter.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Doping cover-up: China faces probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe