Why the IOC barred an athlete from the 2016 Rio Olympics after a drug test

A report from Human Rights Watch accuses the International Olympic Committee of “sportswashing” – punishing athletes for past misconduct – by barring Chinese badminton player Peng Shuai after she failed a drug test at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Peng, who was born in 1980 and had represented China in 20 international badminton tournaments, tested positive for Tetazidine, a diuretic, after the Olympics. The 36-year-old international star tested positive only in one international tournament, and several weeks before Rio 2016.

Peng denied taking the banned substance, saying she had been advised by a doctor after losing an Olympic gold medal-match to Li Xuerui of China to obtain a medication for heart problems. Tetazidine is not deemed to cause any banned substances, and Peng said that she thought she was taking placeelders’ blood-thinning medication. The athlete also made the claim that she has never used a banned substance and that she “denies the accusations.”

In a written statement, the IOC said it had used “all scientific evidence and local and international doping control regulations” to determine that her failure to disclose the medication was a “clear breach of the anti-doping rules.” The IOC did not specify whether she will be suspended for a year or permanently.

Peng, who has also represented her country in table tennis, had said she was saddened by the decision to exclude her from the competition. “Olympic Games are all about participating on the basis of what you are good at,” Peng said, according to the Hong Kong South China Morning Post. “I have been an athlete for many years, and I know what it means to be on the Olympic team. I take everything I can and am always honest about it.”

Peng was suspended when she was beaten by Li on Aug. 2, the first day of the Olympics. She won the match over the Chinese on Aug. 4, but officials said her results would not count toward China’s overall medal total, indicating that her disqualification would be the toughest penalty the Chinese team would face in Rio. Peng missed the bronze medal round in Rio. The Chinese government was quick to defend her, even tweeting out a photo of her playing table tennis, removing the one-month suspension notice and suggesting it was a mere technicality. Peng played well in the first day of the badminton competitions.

Now, the IOC investigation has been put on hold until Beijing’s badminton team returns from the 2017 World Championship in Malaysia this month. The news prompted Peng to write an open letter to Chinese citizens, her family and her team, blaming the process for unjustly disrupting her life.

“The Olympics are not just a competition, but a big source of pride for all Chinese people,” Peng wrote, according to the Telegraph. “In recent months, they [the IOC] have thwarted me again. My Olympic dream is what makes me the Olympic athlete I am today. The fine imposed on me by the IOC has unfairly forced me to quit competing and started a new path for me.”

“I am still an Olympic athlete, and what makes me proud is that I overcame so many odds,” Peng wrote. “But what hurts most is that I cannot continue to represent my country.”

China’s badminton federation has defended Peng’s innocence, with chairman Fu Hui maintaining that she did not intentionally tamper with the doping test, but also stressed the International Olympic Committee had “achieved the ruling they made.”

“This might happen to a Chinese athlete or other athletes from some other Olympic countries,” Fu said. “But, at the end of the day, the IOC has reached the same result as they made.”

Human Rights Watch said its report showed “absolutely no evidence” that Peng had neglected to disclose the medication.

“Chinese authorities think they can keep game officials up at night by applying all the methods and powers at their disposal, but it won’t work,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Peng Shuai is only the latest victim of a sportswashing strategy by the IOC, in which all reports of wrongdoing are ignored, and athletes only responsible when they get caught in flagrante delicto, rather than for their own actions.”

Peng is expected to return to China this month.

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