Actively seeking to avoid the kind of doping scandal engulfing track and field, USA Swimming is teaming up with the man who brought down Lance Armstrong.
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart will join former USA Swimming president Jim Wood for a meeting with FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu in Lausanne, Switzerland, next month to check in on the anti-doping actions of the sport’s governing body.
“This is an effort to see if we can understand what’s going on and maybe why certain decisions were made the way they were,” USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus told The Associated Press on Wednesday in a telephone interview from his office in Colorado.
Unlike with the IAAF and the ongoing corruption scandal at FIFA, though, there is no explicit concern about the people in charge.
“We’ve been extremely supportive of FINA’s leadership,” Wielgus said. “(Marculescu) was very quick to agree to a meeting so we were very pleased by that. We saw that as a very positive response.”
The concern lies with the way doping cases involving China’s Sun Yang, Australia’s Kylie Palmer and Russia’s Yuliya Efimova were handled.
USA Swimming wants to ensure the likes of Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky compete against only clean athletes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“There are two great concerns we have about the Rio Games. One is that there is clean competition. And No. 2 is that the water is clean for open water swimmers,” Wielgus said, adding that water quality will not be discussed in the meeting with Marculescu.
Sun, the gold medalist in the 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle at the London Olympics, served a three-month doping suspension last year for using a banned stimulant. His punishment began immediately after he tested positive in May 2014, but Chinese officials kept the test quiet for six months and FINA also waited until late November to announce the sanction.
Sun was then named male swimmer of the meet at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August.
Palmer, a member of the Australian 4×200-meter freestyle relay team which won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games, tested positive for low levels of a banned masking agent at the 2013 worlds in Barcelona, but she was not notified of the failed test until earlier this year.
Palmer denied taking performance-enhancing drugs but she accepted a provisional suspension, ruling her out of the Kazan worlds. Then FINA’s doping tribunal issued Palmer with only a reprimand and warning in September, allowing her to resume her bid to compete in Rio.
Efimova, meanwhile, returned in March from a 16-month ban after testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA. She maintained that she ingested the steroid in a nutritional supplement. The Los Angeles-based swimmer said her English was poor enough that she didn’t notice that the banned substance was written on the package of the supplement.
FINA accepted that Efimova wasn’t intending to gain a performance boost and decided not to give her the standard ban of two years, which would have ruled her out of her home worlds. She won the 100 breaststroke in Kazan.
Tygart, whose detailed report led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, has been reviewing these and other cases.
“It’s fair to say that those things got our attention and we wondered what went wrong in some of the decision-making,” Wielgus said. “Those are things we’ll talk about with Cornel but more important than that is pushing forward. Understanding some of the past mistakes is important but making sure the system is in place so those things don’t happen again is even more important.”
John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association and its American member organization ASCA, has been severely critical of FINA’s anti-doping efforts.
“USA Swimming does not share John’s view,” Wielgus said.
Following the World Anti-Doping Agency commission’s report of Russia’s state-sponsored doping in track and field last month, FINA announced that it was transferring all 645 drug samples taken at the Kazan worlds from Moscow’s laboratory to the WADA facility in Barcelona.
No positives have been detected from Kazan and there are no plans to re-test the samples.
“Unless there is some special issue there is no reason to re-test,” Marculescu told the AP, adding that the initial tests were carried out before observers from labs in Barcelona and London.
USA Swimming’s top request for FINA is to explore establishing an independent body to control anti-doping efforts — along the lines of IOC President Thomas Bach‘s proposal last month that testing be turned over to an independent unit within WADA.
But when pressed for details on how an independent anti-doping body could operate, Wielgus did not have an immediate answer.
“It always gets back to money,” he said. “Doesn’t it?”