China’s Qiu Yuhan, a double 2014 Youth Olympic gold medallist and London 2012 Olympics team member, was banned by the China Anti-Doping Agency (Chinada) in May 2016. The news just made it to the official record of Chinada, the national anti-doping agency, but remains unreported by FINA, the international federation.
The trouble for FINA is two-fold: its relationship with China and leniency is long, while the Qiu case exposes a deep problem in the federation’s policy of removing all spent doping cases from the official public record. The case is only now being reported by China but may never appear on any FINA list on the public record because the penalty has already been spent.
Under the headline “More embarrassment for Chinese swimming as details of another doping suspension are revealed … months after ban is served”, the South China Morning Post reports that Chinada has finally made the news official – months after SwimVortex reported how Qiu had been left off the Rio 2016 Olympic team without explanation last year even though she clearly qualified to race at national trials.
Now, Chinada reports that she tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide, banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency as a diuretic and masking agent, during an out-of-competition check. The substance is the same as that for which Chen Xinyi* tested positive at the Rio Olympic Games last year – that test landing a two-year penalty. Chinese swimming has a poor history when it comes to a mixture of positive doping tests for the highest category of offences and positive tests for masking agents.
The Qiu case made the Chinada official list this week. FINA has yet to include the case in its list of suspensions and may now never do so in that the moment a suspension is spent, FINA removes cases from the public record on its website.
The international federation made the move away from full transparency more than two years ago. As such there is no full, official public record of the doping history of the sport of swimming.
Chinada barred Qiu for nine months but there is no evidence that she actually served time out of the sport while her case was going through the tardy Chinese system of reporting such things. The swimmer was also asked to the 5,000 yuan cost of testing five samples. There is no case reported of any others involved: no doctor, no coach.
The case comes in the week that FINA slapped a one-year ban on Australian Tom-Fraser Holmes, for missing three out-of-competition tests at the time and place he said he would be. The maximum penalty allowed is two years. FINA’s halving of that displays customary leniency but not to the extent that the federation has been soft on China.
Qiu’s case is the latest to show China as a nation that finds tests and hides them until either/or international authorities force them to reveal the truth – and then often long after any penalties are supposed to have been served.
In the lead-up to the Rio Olympic Games, The Times newspaper in London and SwimVortex revealed that China had five unreported doping cases on its hands. China had two things to say: it had hidden nothing (though no-one knew of the cases) and there were in fact six cases, three from late 2015 and three from January 2016.
Go back to 2014 and China attempted to leave a positive test by Sun Yang*, then the Olympic 400 and 1500m free champion, unpunished. FINA was forced to demand that a penalty be imposed.What happened next was a matter of searing controversy that spilled into Star Wars and more at Rio 2016. Sun tested positive for a heart booster placed on the banned list in 2014. His defence was that he had been taking the substance throughout his elite career and Chinada, according to the national doping agency itself, had failed to update the Chinese version of the WADA Code.
The positive test was May 2014. In September that year, Sun raced to three golds at the Asian Games in Korea. By his side at that meet was one of his – and the China team’s – constant companions on swim tour, Dr Ba. Zhen**. China would later claim that Dr Ba was not accredited through the national team, to cries from critics who noted that it would have been highly unlikely that Games organisers would have given a medical credential on the say so of a doctor and swimmer and not a team and even less likely that China would not have known that the doctor was travelling to work with Sun Yang.
It was November 2014 before Xinhua revealed the truth: Sun had tested positive. The penalty, it would emerge, was three months, imposed retrospectively and therefore never actually ever served.
SwimVortex informed WADA that Dr Ba had worked during what was supposed to have been a one-year suspension period for the doctor. A member of the medical staff of the China team since the home Olympics in 2008, Ba was slapped a second penalty but is now back working with Sun on the way to world titles in Budapest next month.
In Rio, Sun was among those booed to and from his blocks with every passing race as swimmers, coaches and others showed their fatigue with cheats who make their way back to Olympic waters towing doping records with them. Sun was beaten by Australian Mack Horton in the 400m free in Rio but then claimed the 200m crown, after which he was hugged on the poolside by FINA director Cornel Marculescu. In his press conference, Sun referred to the director as being ‘like a grandfather’ to himself and Chinese swimming.
That contributed to the demand from coaches, swimmers and others, for anti-doping to be removed from the auspices and control of FINA in favour of an independent anti-doping regime.
FINA, pressing for a one-year ban for no-shows from Fraser-Holmes, did not challenge the length of the ban on Sun. Fraser-Holmes, with no such inappropriate “protection” from the international federation, is taking his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
FINA itself has been taken to CAS of late by one of its executive board members, Paolo Barelli, the Italian challenging for the FINA Presidency in woeful circumstances in which the incumbent, Julio Maglione, has pressed a change to the constitution twice to suit himself, including scrapping age limits for those wishing to hold office – now than he’s 81.
Meanwhile, Qiu, from Liaoning province, took part in the Rio Games selection trials last April and qualified in the 200m freestyle in a time that made her a potential finalist and a big card for the 4x200m relay. Then, when the team was announced, her name was missing, without any explanation from the Chinese Olympic Committee nor the Chinese Swimming Association.
As the South China Post reports: “Qiu first came to prominence at the 2012 London Games as the 14 year-old became the only ’90s-born member of the Chinese 4x100m freestyle relay team, which finished fourth in the final. She raced in both 4x100m relay events when the Chinese team claimed a double gold at the 2014 Youth Games in front of the home crowds in Nanjing. She also came second in the 200m freestyle and third in the 100m, behind teammate Shen Duo and Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong.”
She was part of a generation of ‘clean Chinese swimmers’ in the wake of the doping crisis of more than 50 positive doping tests within a six-year period in the 1990s. Among her peers who also tested positive were Li Zhesi*, the sprinter who at 15 tested positive for EPO, and Chen Xinyi*, a world-class swimmer at 14 but at 16 in Rio sent home from the Olympics after failing a drugs test when testing positive for hydrochlorothiazide.
Chen’s coach, also the man who mentored Beijing 2008 Olympic 200m butterfly champion Liu Zige to victory, was not penalised – nor were any doctors, according to the official record.