LONDON • The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has come under fire for taking five years to begin investigating allegations of systemic doping in China that were first made by a whistleblower in 2012.
On Sunday, the Chinese doctor Xue Yinxian told the German broadcaster ARD that more than 10,000 Chinese athletes had used banned substances during the 1980s and 90s, including every medal winner in every major championships - claims that Wada has now referred to its intelligence unit for scrutiny.
However, Wada's critics have pointed out that Xue - whose elite roles included chief medical supervisor for the Chinese gymnastics team - made similar claims in an interview to the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012, when she described doping in China as "rampant in the 1980s" and said that anyone who rejected drugs "would face punishment or criticism".
The 79-year-old, who is seeking political asylum in Germany, also told the paper that she had fought a losing battle against doping in elite sport in China, although she did not mention how many athletes she believed had doped.
Renee-Anne Shirley, the former head of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission, wrote on Twitter: "Dr Xue made these accusations in 2012 but Wada did nothing about them then. Guess they only move when ARD TV does a documentary?"
In response to Shirley's claims, Wada pointed out that it was only formed in November 1999; and, only in January 2015, acquired the power to investigate under the 2015 Code.
"Since then, the agency has built up its intelligence and investigations capability and exercised this power as appropriate," a spokesperson told The Guardian.
WIDESPREAD DOPING SYSTEM
People believed only in doping, anyone who took doping substances was seen to be defending the (honour of the) country. Anyone against doping... now sits in prison.
XUE YINXIAN, former chief medical supervisor for China's gymnastics team.
"The same applies here - the agency will ensure that, if action is warranted and feasible under the Code, all the necessary and appropriate steps will be taken.
"As a first step, the Agency has asked its independent Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) team to initiate an investigative process in order to collect and analyse available information in coordination with external partners."
Wada also confirmed it would be willing to work "with or alongside" other anti-doping bodies, including the International Association of Athletics Federations' Athletics Integrity Unit, to get to the truth of the matter.
Xue, who was dismissed from the Chinese national team for refusing to give a young gymnast a banned substance at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, has said that children as young as 11 were taking banned drugs to improve their performance and that the state-run doping system covered every sport from athletics to weightlifting.
She called for "all international medals" won by her country during that period to be declared void because they are "tainted" by doping.
"People believed only in doping, anyone who took doping substances was seen to be defending the (honour of the) country. Anyone against doping damaged the country and now sits in prison," she added.
However the chances of any convictions are slim, given the difficulty in prosecuting cases decades after the alleged offences.
The International Olympic Committee confirmed it was aware of Wada's investigation.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS