Swimming Australia has come under fire for its handling of the positive doping test by Australian swimmer Shayna Jack, with claims the sport’s governing body tried to cover up the news during the world swimming championships.
News of Jack’s test failure broke on Saturday, when the Queensland-based Commonwealth Games gold medallist posted on Instagram to reveal she had failed a drug test.
The acknowledgement came two weeks after she abruptly left Australian team preparations for the world titles at Gwangju, South Korea, citing “personal reasons”.
Australian swimmer Mack Horton had used the world championships to take a high-profile stand against doping in sport, refusing to share the podium with Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, who he branded a “drug cheat”.
In a statement released after Jack’s statement, Swimming Australia admitted ASADA had told it that Jack had tested positive during an out-of-competition drug test on June 26.
But the sport’s governing body maintained it had been required to keep the details confidential.
“Under the specific legislation governing Australia’s drug-testing regime, Swimming Australia is notified of any adverse test result as is WADA and FINA,” the statement said.
“Under the process, all details are required to remain confidential until ASADA has completed its investigations, the athlete is afforded due process and an outcome determined.”
But Richard Ings, the former head of Australia’s anti-doping authority ASADA, posted on social media rejecting SA’s explanation.
“If Swimming Australia are suggesting that their anti-doping policy, approved by ASADA, forbids them from announcing the Jack provisional suspension, they are wrong,” Ings tweeted.
“[Section] 14.3.1 permits Swimming Australia to go public.
“The identity of any athlete or other person who is asserted by ASADA or another anti-doping organisation to have committed an anti-doping rule violation, may be publicly disclosed by ASADA or another anti-doping organisation only after notice has been provided to the athlete or other person in accordance with Article 7.3, 7.4, 7.5, 7.6 or 7.7 and simultaneously to WADA and the international federation in accordance with Article 14.1.2.
“The WADA Code permits sports to publicly announce the details of provisional suspensions,” Ings added.
“Many major sports have learned the hard way that if you cover up, you inevitably get burned. Swimming Australia is learning that lesson now too. Always announce provisional suspensions.”
‘The truth needs to be told’
Speaking to the ABC on Sunday, Ings stepped up his criticism.
“I think that’s a very disappointing part of this whole situation. Not just from the athlete, but particularly from Swimming Australia. When an athlete is provisionally suspended, the rules do allow the sport to make a public announcement,” he said.
“In NRL, the NRL [have] made public announcements. ASADA have made provisional suspensions public announcements.
By covering up and not telling the truth, it makes the story bigger and worse.
“We need to give her [Jack] the presumption of innocence unless or until a tribunal finds otherwise.
“This is a reminder that these sort of allegations of positive drug tests can happen to any athlete, in any sport, in any country and not just in China.
“The public do notice and ultimately what was said by Shayna Jack and Swimming Australia weeks ago about vague personal reasons become transparent weeks later as a lie. The truth needs to be told at the beginning.”
Swim body says proper processes were followed
Swimming Australia chief executive Leigh Russell faced the media on Sunday, doubling down on the body’s insistence that it had no choice but to keep the details confidential, thanks to an ASADA directive and its policy.
“Under our policy, it’s very, very clear. We must not speak publicly and we have some very strict confidentiality agreements in place so that only ASADA or the athlete are the ones that can actually speak on the particulars of the matter,” she said.
“What has happened is embarrassing. It is bitterly disappointing, but it also does not change at all Swimming Australia’s view of the absolute necessity to have a clean sport and a sport that is drug-free.”
The chief executive added that Shayna Jack had told them she was preparing to announce the adverse test result this coming week.
“She [Jack] said she wanted to wait until her teammates had finished competing [in Gwangju],” Russell said.
However, the swimmer’s announcement came with one day of the worlds competition still to run, and with Australia’s female 4x100m medley relay team set to take to the pool tonight.
Asked about Jack’s whereabouts, Russell said the swimmer was at home with her family.
“She’s got incredible support around her from her family, her friends but [also] more formal support we have put in place,” Russell said.
“I am concerned for her as I would be for anybody in this particular situation.
“She will have unprecedented pressure placed upon her and I think it would be good of us to remember that we are dealing and managing with a young person who is in a situation she’s never found herself in before.
“She is able to be afforded a process and once that process has played out, obviously, then we can start to judge, you know, what was right and wrong. But for now, we are dealing with a young athlete who for the first time finds herself in this situation.”
Coach says ‘the Australian system works’
ASADA released a statement backing Swimming Australia’s version of events, saying it had “entered into multiple individual confidentiality undertakings with sporting organisations for the purposes of the National Anti-Doping Scheme”.
“The confidentiality undertaking prohibited Swimming Australia from comment. From the outset ASADA has been working closely with Swimming Australia,” it said.
Speaking to reporters in Gwangju, Australia’s team coach Jacco Verhaeren insisted that “we’re not trying to cover anything up”.
“We all know that a case like this, you can’t cover it up. You don’t want to cover it up,” he said.
“I think that actually shows that the Australian system works. It has never been a cover-up. Everybody knows that we’re not living in some kind of country that does that.
“We can pride ourselves in Australia in having a very strict system that protects the sport, but also the athletes.
“It won’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last time [we deal with this] – not for us, not for any other country.”
Verhaeren rejected suggestions that Horton had been hung out to dry by the way Jack’s case had been communicated.
“Would we all do the same [as Horton]? Probably not. But we don’t walk away from it [the discussion] either and particularly not where a fellow teammate, a fellow country member has been found positive,” he said.
“I think it is more time than ever to stand up for clean sport.”
Jack a ‘drug cheater’ says American swim star
Reaction to the news also came from swimming stars.
American breaststroke star Lilly King referred to Jack as a “drug cheater” at a press conference at Gwangju.
“She has tested positive on a drug test. I don’t know the details on the case so we will see,” King said.
South African swimming great Chad le Clos declared that convicted dopers shouldn’t be allowed to compete again.
“I’m not sure what the case is, but my stance is always the same. If you test positive you shouldn’t be allowed to swim,” he said.
“Anybody that takes PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) shouldn’t be allowed to swim, simple.”
Both in China’s state-controlled media and online, reaction to Jack’s banned substance test has been fairly muted.
But some smaller online outlets described the scandal as retribution for Horton refusing to share a podium with his Chinese rival Sun.
Jack has appealed for privacy as the case plays out.
“I did not take this substance knowingly. Swimming has been my passion since I was 10 years old and I would never intentionally take a banned substance that would disrespect my sport and jeopardise my career,” she wrote on Instagram on Saturday.
“Now there is an ongoing investigation and my team and I are doing everything we can to find out when and how this substance has come into contact with my body.
“I would appreciate if you respect my privacy as this is very hard for me to cope with.”