PARIS — China is stopping a former Asian record holder from returning to swimming competition even though the World Anti-Doping Agency intervened to cut short his doping ban.
To demonstrate zero-tolerance for doping before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China banned backstroker Ouyang Kunpeng for life for failing a drug test.
WADA and swimming's governing body quietly and successfully pressured China to cut the ban to two years, a sentence in line with the world anti-doping code but which has not been publicized until now. The ban should have ended in May.
But Chinese sports authorities now say they will still not allow Ouyang to compete in any government-sanctioned swim competitions in China, effectively prolonging his punishment.
"We won't let him represent China in any competition," swim official Yuan Haoran told The Associated Press by phone. "He won't enter the Chinese national team again because of the very bad precedent he set."
WADA's director general, David Howman, says there's not much the agency can now do to help the swimmer, even though it and FINA, swimming's world governing body, did intervene against China's initial decision to suspend Ouyang for life. They leaned on China by filing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, eventually prompting China to reduce the ban to two years.
"If the Chinese authorities do not allow him to compete in Chinese government sponsored events, this is not a matter of anti-doping rules but rather of Chinese regulations. There is not much WADA could do about it," Howman said in a statement to the AP. "The only realistic solution would seem to be that he pursue his swimming career outside of mainland China."
Ouyang's case feeds into a debate about whether athletes who fail drug tests should face additional punishments on top of the bans laid out in the world anti-doping code, or whether they should be allowed an entirely fresh start after serving their suspensions.
Britain's Olympic Association, for example, bans British athletes who fail drug tests for life from the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee bars any athlete who receives a doping suspension of at least six months from taking part in the next Olympics. Top European track and field meets, working together, also shun athletes returning from bans of two years or more.
China's punishment of Ouyang, however, goes further still by keeping him out of all government-sanctioned events in his own country. Yuan, a swimming director at the government's General Administration of Sport, said that domestic ban would last for life for Ouyang.
Sports authorities in Ouyang's home province of Jiangxi say the 28-year-old swimmer, a triple silver medalist at the 2006 Asian Games, wants to resume competition and has kept fit during his ban.
An official at the Jiangxi provincial sports bureau said they are petitioning swimming authorities to allow Ouyang to take part in government-organized competitions.
Unless the ban is lifted, Ouyang will only be able to compete in nonofficial or club events in China, of which there are not many and where "the quality of competition is not very high," said the Jiangxi sports official reached by phone, who gave his name only as Mr. Wang.
Associated Press researchers Ji Chen in Shanghai and Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report