The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
Swim bosses wanted to ‘destroy’ Ian’s name
Finally we can reveal the truth about who was behind the drug claims against Ian Thorpe, writes Julian Linden and Craig Lord
Wo r ld swimming offic ia ls stand accused of sabotaging Ian Thorpe’s career and attempting to destroy his reputation by leaking the Australian champion’s confidential medical records more than a decade ago.
At the time Thorpe was a growing threat to FINA’s ruthless control of international swimming because he was openly agitating for athlete’s rights and pushing for a breakaway professional competition.
Thorpe’s career was derailed when private medical records were leaked to a French newspaper in 2007, revealing that one of his doping samples had shown elevated levels of testosterone, which were proved to have occurred naturally. The case should have been closed after a panel of international experts cleared Thorpe of any wrongdoing but the publication of his name, along with the leaked confidential report into his tests was a serious breach of anti-doping’s strict privacy protocols.
FINA has always denied leaking the reports but reneged on a promise to investigate who tipped off the French media.
Now highly placed sources and documents that have been uncovered by The Sunday Mail reveal a different story.
Former Swimming Australia bosses have confirmed a senior FINA official named Thorpe as the owner of the samples being investigated. It can also be revealed that FINA took matters into its own hands while Thorpe’s samples were still being reviewed, secretly ordering target tests on Thorpe while he was training in California and trying to pressure Australian anti-doping officials to charge him with a doping infraction when all the evidence proved otherwise.
Thorpe had announced his retirement at the end of 2006, aged just 24. Thorpe still made the trip to the
Beijing Olympics but the Australian’s mind was elsewhere.
Just four days before the Opening Ceremony, Thorpe announced he was commencing defamation action against the French newspaper L’Equipe and its drug-busting journalist Damien Ressiot for publishing an article claiming a urine sample Thorpe provided in May 2006 showed high levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone.
It is not unusual for athletes to return samples with abnormal levels and in Thorpe’s case his results were proven to be naturally occurring so he was rightfully cleared of any wrongdoing and never charged with any breach.
But for a swimmer whose wholesome reputation was built around his stance on clean sport, the mere suggestion one of his drug samples was being scrutinised was soul-destroying.
He also demanded an answer to who leaked his confidential medical records to L’Equipe, which amounted to a serious violation of the strict privacy protocols for anti-doping investigations.
To this day, L‘Equipe still refuses to disclose where it got the tip off from, citing source confidentiality, while the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) both insist it was not them.
That leaves FINA, which vowed to conduct a full investigation to discover the source of the leak — only to renege on its promise.
FINA has always denied being responsible for the leak but The Sunday Mail can exclusively reveal that it could only be a high-ranking official from the sport’s world governing body that leaked Thorpe’s results.
According to confidential documents seen by The Sunday Mail, on September 1, 2006, Professor Ken Fitch, who was the chairman of the Australian Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee (ASDMAC) at the time, wrote to the FINA Doping Control Review Board (DCRB) notifying it a FINA official had “breached confidentiality by advising Swimming Australia of the name of an athlete who remained under investigation but has not returned a positive sample”.
A former senior Swimming Australia official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to The Sunday Mail that a FINA official
identified Thorpe in a clear breach of strict privacy rules.
“It was a FINA official,” the source said. “He told Glenn Tasker he knew it was Ian Thorpe and wanted to know what was being done.” Tasker, who passed away in 2019, was Swimming Australia’s CEO at the time and is understood to have privately told senior board members a FINA official was responsible for the leak, prompting the complaint to the world body.
One senior FINA source who did not want to be identified, said that at the time of Thorpe’s leaked medical reports, a high-ranking official would often intervene in doping matters, without the permission or knowledge of other board members.
”We were never told anything,” the source said. “At that time, everything was dealt with by this one official.”
For anyone familiar with FINA’s strongarm approach to running swimming, the revelation of a powerful figure within the organisation flaunting the rules to smear the reputation of one of the sport’s greatest stars will not come as a surprise.
But it should raise serious questions for the International Olympic Committee ahead of this year’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
Consistently ranked as one of the worst governed sports in the Olympics, swimming’s FINA remains one of the few international federations that is yet to agree to allow independent investigations into integrity issues, including doping.
Three of FINA’s own antidoping experts resigned in protest at its handling of the Russian doping crisis around the 2016 Rio Olympics.
FINA’s more recent decision to allow Sun Yang to compete at the 2019 world championships when he still had a doping case pending, led to a full-scale mutiny led by Australian anti-drugs crusader Mack Horton.
But FINA’s leaking of Thorpe’s private medical records marked a new low that lends weight to the suspicion it was a callous attempt to discredit him for his ultimately doomed proposal to establish a rebel professional league that paid swimmers properly.
Thorpe had become increasingly disgusted by the way some of FINA’s ageing executives were running the sport.
Thorpe decided to do something about it, so began working with like-minded international swimming agents and entrepreneurs on a plan to create a breakaway competition where the profits would be shared among the competitors.
Once FINA’s top brass learned about his idea, which never advanced past the planning phase, relations with the five-time Olympic gold medallist quickly turned sour.
The payback came later. L’Equipe’s story was published on the penultimate day of the 2007 world championships, which were taking place in Melbourne and although he had just recently retired, Thorpe was still heavily involved in promoting the championships.
He called a media conference to declare his innocence.
Shortly after, FINA also called the press in, denouncing the leak and feigning any knowledge of Thorpe’s test result or the leak.
What FINA has never disclosed but The Sunday Mail can confirm after unearthing a confidential report, was how aggressively FINA pursued the case once they figured out the samples belonged to Thorpe.
FINA was first notified that there was an issue with a sample from an unnamed Australian swimmer on June 21, 2006, just two days after the results were analysed. Yet FINA asked the USADA to test Thorpe, twice on one day on July 29, then again on August 21, after the Aussie relocated to the US to train with top coach David Salo.
This was either a freak coincidence or a deliberate target test because they knew the sample from Australia was his.
Meanwhile, FINA was quizzing ASADA about the case.
In his letter to DCRB chairman Dr Andrew Pipe, Professor Fitch said Australian authorities were becoming increasingly alarmed by the leaks coming from FINA, writing: “We have concerns that he/she may do so again.”
On October 30, 2006, a FINA senior executive again wrote to ASADA, this time asking the case be treated as a positive test. The same FINA official also warned ASADA that FINA would take over the investigation if ASADA did not hurry up.
When ASADA boss Richard Ings informed the FINA official the investigation had been completed and concluded “there is insufficient evidence to constitute an adverse analytical finding”, FINA filed the first of two appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, asking that the case be reconsidered as a doping violation.
Only after a series of independent international experts, including Professor Christine Ayotte of the Canadian Doping Control Laboratory, had concluded it could not be regarded as a doping violation, did FINA agree to clear Thorpe of any wrongdoing and ending the saga.
In 2009, Thorpe dropped his defamation proceedings against L’Equipe after counsel for the paper failed to appear in the NSW Supreme Court.
No action was ever taken against FINA because it never investigated the leak.