A Chinese flag is unfurled on the podium of a...

A Chinese flag is unfurled on the podium of a swimming event final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, on July 29, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. An Australian newspaper said Saturday, April 20, 2024, 23 Chinese swimmers were cleared to compete at the Tokyo Olympics despite testing positive to doping because world governing bodies agreed with Chinese authorities and ruled that the tests had been contaminated. Credit: AP/Charlie Riedel

SYDNEY — The world's top anti-doping regulator says 23 Chinese swimmers were cleared to compete at the Tokyo Olympics despite testing positive for a banned heart medication because it agreed with Chinese authorities and ruled that their samples had been contaminated.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said Saturday that the swimmers tested positive for the heart medication trimetazidine in the months leading up to the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but that Chinese authorities told the agency the positives were the result of contamination.

“Ultimately, we concluded that there was no concrete basis to challenge the asserted contamination,” WADA’s senior director of science and medicine Olivier Rabin said in a news release.

The 30-member Chinese swim team won six medals in Tokyo, including three golds. Many of the athletes still compete for China and are expected to swim at the Paris Olympics this summer.

Reports about the doping positives came out Saturday in the Daily Telegraph in Sydney and The New York Times.

WADA responded to what it called “some misleading and potentially defamatory media coverage this week” and explained the process it undertook upon learning about the positive tests.

The global drug-fighting organization said it also had been given a tip by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as early as 2020 — before this case arose — about allegations of doping cover-ups in China but that USADA never followed up with evidence.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart called the news of the Chinese positive tests “crushing.”

“It’s even more devastating to learn the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency secretly, until now, swept these positives under the carpet by failing to fairly and evenly follow the global rules that apply to everyone else in the world,” Tygart said.

World Aquatics, which oversees global swimming, told the Daily Telegraph it was confident “that these (adverse analytical findings) were handled diligently and professionally, and in accordance with all applicable anti-doping regulations, including the World Anti-Doping Code.”

The drug at the center of this case was also the medication that led to the suspension of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.

In that case, WADA moved quickly to sanction Valieva upon learning about her positive test.

The case underscores what many view as a flaw in the global anti-doping system — that a country's own anti-doping organization is often the first line of defense in catching drug cheats and those organizations have different levels of motivation to fulfill that role.

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