To the Chinese Sun Yang is a hero — the first man to win Olympic Gold in the pool for their nation.
- The World Anti-Doping Agency wants the swimmer banned for up to eight years for an alleged doping violation
- Sun told the hearing he became suspicious when one of the anti-doping team members began taking photos of him on his phone
- Sun said drug testers failed to provide their ID
But in Australia he’s been marked a pariah, a swimming villain who will struggle to shake drug-cheat allegations, regardless of whether he’s found not guilty by sport’s highest judicial body.
Australia’s Mack Horton has made no secret of his dislike for his athletic rival, labelling the 27-year-old a “drug cheat” and refusing to stand on a medal podium with him in South Korea earlier this year at the swimming world championships.
Sun Yang, all six feet and seven inches of him, dominated the room as the Court of Arbitration for Sport began its proceedings in a lush hotel in the Swiss city of Montreux.
It was the first time in 20 years such a hearing was held in public, but it was marred by translation difficulties as Sun gave his hour-long evidence.
“If you want him to answer the question, the translation must be correct,” the swimmer’s frustrated counsel Ian Meakin told the gathering.
Despite having been cleared with a warning from swimming’s governing body FINA in January, the World Anti-Doping Agency wants the swimmer banned for up to eight years for an alleged doping violation.
Vial ‘smashed during testing’
The allegations relate to the night of September the 4th last year when three anti-doping officials arrived at Sun’s home in China to conduct routine drug testing.
The evening ended with a vial of the swimmer’s blood allegedly being destroyed with a hammer by a security guard, as Sun watched on, using his mobile phone as a flashlight.
The drug test was never completed and the blood and urine samples never tested.
Sun told the hearing he became suspicious when one of the anti-doping team members began taking photos of him on his mobile phone, which he told the hearing was unprofessional.
Mr Meakin argued the testing team then failed to present the required identification outlined in WADA guidelines, telling the session the observer sent to watch Sun provide his urine sample only produced his national Chinese ID card and the nurse her qualification certificate — but nothing to link them to the testing agency.
“The officials were not even capable of proving their identity, how could I allow them to take my sample?” Sun questioned during the proceedings.
“One question, if during the night there was someone, a policeman, came to your house and telling you, ‘I’m the policeman but I don’t have my identification’, how would you react? How would you believe?” Sun asked the hearing.
But Brent Rychener, counsel for WADA, questioned the validity of the testimony given the number of times Sun had been drug tested during his career.
“You’ve given approximately 200 samples, are you saying today that after all the times you have been tested that you are not aware of the legal consequences for refusing to provide a sample?” he asked.
Richard Young, another counsel for WADA, told the hearing collection agency the International Doping Test Management (IDTM) had collected 19,000 doping tests using the same documentation and had no complaints.
Tudo Popa, the testing coordinator from IDTM, told the proceeding the correct procedures were followed.
“We did hundreds of tests with the same principal,” he said.
“So, from my opinion we had all the documents required according to instructions.”
In his closing statement, Sun was scathing of the doping allegation in the Australian media, saying confidential information from the initial FINA report had been leaked and he felt there was a “black power” in operation behind the media coverage.
“Some Australian media disclosed some very detailed information from this confidential recent decision made by FINA doping panel. I feel there was a black power in operation behind all this media coverage,” he said.
Ban could end swimmer’s career
If the CAS rules in WADA’s favour, Sun faces between a two- and eight-year ban, meaning he would miss the Tokyo Olympics next year, and that the 27-year-old’s career would likely be over.
The sentence could be on the harsher side given it would be Sun’s second offence.
He was also banned in 2014 for three months for testing positive for what was then a prohibited substance.
The swimmer’s coach, Australian Denis Cotterell, watched on as eleven hours of proceedings unfolded and is confident Sun will be vindicated.
“He’s really had to suffer be subject to a lot of vilification,” Mr Cotterell told the ABC outside the hearing.
“With the facts coming out the truth will be revealed and I’m confident that he was justified despite the dramatic circumstances of not letting that blood go.”
Sun ‘will struggle to clear name’
If the arbitrator finds in Sun’s favour, he can continue to swim but could find it hard to shake the drug cheat tag.
“I think he will struggle to clear his name,” Daniel Reid from the Institute for Sport Business at the Loughborough University told the ABC.
“There is a strong media narrative now around anti-doping in sport, we like having heroes and villains and it plays well for the media narrative to have the clean versus the doper.”
The court’s panel won’t deliver its findings for many weeks, possibly in the new year.
“I don’t want to even contemplate it,” Mr Cotterell said of a potential ban.
“I would hope in the future no other athlete would be so disrespected.”