The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature.
China’s three-time Olympic champion Sūn Yáng 孙杨 has been suspended from international swimming competitions for eight years for a drug-testing violation in September 2018. He will most likely miss this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
The punishment was handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to overturn a decision by FINA, swimming’s world governing body, to clear Sun of the offense back in January 2019.
This is the 28-year-old’s second offense, after a three-month suspension in 2014 for taking the banned substance Trimetazidine, which is a stimulant.
In quite an extraordinary case, Sun Yang told the appeal hearing that he had missed the test due to the failure of the testers to prove their credentials at his home.
The case got its headline moment when Sun reportedly smashed one of the blood sample vials with a hammer. The Associated Press later reported that it was Sun’s mother who instructed a security guard to break the protective casing around the vial, rendering the sample unusable.
After the trial, Xinhua News Agency, which has been firmly out to bat for Sun Yang since the beginning, began to run interference for the athlete. On December 11, 2019, Xinhua reported:
The witness, one of the three among three doping control testers from the international testing company IDTM in Sun Yang case, said he had never been trained as a tester.
“I am a construction worker. My daily job is doing the construction work at construction sites. I am so busy that I don’t have time to travel to Switzerland to attend the public hearing. No one had ever talked about doping control to me, not to mention such kind of training. It is unnecessary for me.”
Xinhua also released a video showing that the blood samples had been left unattended, which Xinhua twisted to mean that the testers “had given up on the test.”
In a statement, CAS said: “The athlete failed to establish that he had a compelling justification to destroy his sample collection containers and forego the doping control when, in his opinion, the collection protocol was not in compliance with the ISTI (international standard for testing and investigations).
“As the CAS panel noted, it is one thing, having provided a blood sample, to question the accreditation of the testing personnel while keeping the intact samples in the possession of the testing authorities; it is quite another thing, after lengthy exchanges and warnings as to the consequences, to act in such a way that results in destroying the sample containers, thereby eliminating any chance of testing the sample at a later stage.”
Sun has already signaled his intention to appeal the decision to a Swiss Federal Tribunal. “This is unfair. I firmly believe in my innocence,” Sun told Xinhua. “I will definitely appeal to let more people know the truth.”
His lawyer also had some things to say:
“February 28, 2020 was a dark day. It shows the scene where evil defeats justice and power replaces self-evident truths,” Beijing-based lawyer Zhang Qihuai’s statement read.
“On this day, CAS listened to prejudice, turned a blind eye to rules and procedures, turned a blind eye to facts and evidence, and accepted all lies and false evidence.”
Fellow competitors sound off
As expected, the decision to essentially end Sun Yang’s international swimming career has become global news.
CAS’s decision has raised serious questions over the relationship between FINA and the Chinese Swimming Association.
It is important to remember that the case brought by WADA was not just against Sun Yang, but also FINA, the sport’s governing body.
It was a FINA inquiry that concluded that smashing the blood vials was justifiable if the testers failed to present the correct credentials.
But then again, this is the same FINA that has repeatedly said how happy it is with the growth of the sport, both competitively and commercially, in China. This is the FINA that sees its executive director, Cornel Marculescu, give a prolonged hug to Sun Yang after the competitor won gold in the 200m freestyle at the Rio Olympics, only two years after his first ban for doping. This is the same FINA that gave Sun a special award for “Outstanding Contribution to Swimming Popularity in China” in 2017, reportedly at the behest of Chinese swimming officials.
Ultimately, this cozy relationship between FINA and China is going to be put under the spotlight, as well as FINA’s competence at managing its own drug testing.
Mack Horton, the Australian swimmer who refused to share the podium with Sun at the World Championships in 2019 and who also called Sun a “drug cheat” back at the Rio Olympics, commented, “My stance has always been for clean sport. It is not, and never will be, about individuals or nations. Today’s outcome does not change my stance.” Of course, Sun’s long-term rival saw his Instagram flooded with vile abuse, including death threats, from Chinese trolls.
Adam Peaty, a British Olympic swimming champion, called Sun a “fool” and accused the Chinese athlete of “disrespecting the sport” in a statement to Swimming World Magazine.
Meanwhile, South African Chad Le Clos raised the point on Twitter that the sport needed to change after he and other clean athletes had “lost” to Sun.
Like many other clean swimmers, I have raced against Sun Yang and “lost”. Drug cheats have no place in sport and we need the governing bodies to reconsider the damage he has done to our great sport – and to the results / careers of many other clean swimmers #time4change
— Chad Le Clos (@chadleclos) February 28, 2020
Full steam ahead for LoL World Championships in Shanghai
The League of Legends World Championship, which is scheduled for November, will go ahead as planned, according to Shanghai authorities.
Local authorities held a press conference last Wednesday to reassure fans of the popular esport that the World Championship finals won’t be affected by the coronavirus, and will take place at Shanghai Stadium.
From the sports world, at least, this is perhaps the first indication that authorities are confident that the virus will wane well before the end of summer.
The LoL World Championship finals were previously held in China back in 2017 at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing. Chinese team FunPlus Phoenix is the reigning champions, having defeated the European side G2 Sports in Paris last November.
The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.