The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang banned for eight years after court finds he violated doping protocols

Sun Yang’s competitive swimming career likely is over. (Patrick B Kraemer/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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Sun Yang, the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming gold medal and the first male swimmer in history to earn Olympic and world championship gold medals at every freestyle distance between 200 and 1,500 meters, has been banned from competition for eight years after the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport found that he refused to cooperate with blood-sample collectors in violation of rules established by FINA, swimming’s governing body.

After smashing vial, China’s Sun Yang brings scrutiny, controversy to swimming championships

At issue was an attempt to collect a blood sample from Sun at his residence in September 2018. In testimony before the court, evidence was presented that a security guard instructed by Sun’s mother smashed the casing around a vial of his blood with a hammer. After its initial investigation, FINA’s Doping Panel ruled that drug-testing protocol had not been properly followed because the collection team members had not properly identified themselves to Sun and that he had not been properly notified that he needed to submit the samples. The governing body merely issued a warning to the swimmer, a decision that led many to wonder whether FINA was trying to protect one of its marquee names.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed FINA’s decision to CAS, saying Sun had voluntarily refused to submit to the sample collection in violation of FINA rules. After a 10-hour hearing during which Sun was seen to be evasive, CAS found that the collection team had “complied with all applicable requirements” and that Sun “failed to establish that he had a compelling justification to destroy the sample collection containers and forego the doping control.”

According to Swiss supreme court documents unearthed by the Associated Press, FINA supported arguments by Sun’s lawyers to have the WADA appeal thrown out early last year. The court dismissed those arguments.

Sun previously had been suspended for three months in June 2014 after testing positive for a prohibited stimulant, and CAS said his eight-year ban is in line with FINA rules regarding a second doping violation.

FINA has noted the judgement published by CAS today in the case of WADA versus Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.

“Notwithstanding any further legal action, and as directed, FINA will implement CAS’s decision with regard to disciplinary action against the swimmer,” FINA said in a statement issued Friday. “FINA has also noted CAS’s provisions with regard to the modification of competition results.”

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Sun has 30 days to file an appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court, but only on narrow procedural grounds, the AP reports. He posted a lengthy response to Friday’s ruling on China’s Sina Weibo social media platform, saying he plans to appeal.

“I have just finished training and I have always believed in my innocence,” he wrote. "I was shocked, angry and could not understand the result of the ruling of the International Sports Arbitration Court!

"I clearly cooperated actively in accordance with the various regulations on doping control, only because the inspectors were not qualified, and they acknowledged this at the time, so it was my fault to agree not to take the blood sample.

"Considering the problems existing in the trial of the International Sports Arbitration Court, I have entrusted a lawyer to appeal to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court in accordance with the law. Let more people know the truth.

“I firmly believe in my innocence! Believe that facts must overcome lies!”

Australia’s Mack Horton, China’s Sun Yang plain don’t like each other

A three-time Olympic gold medalist and 11-time world champion, the 28-year-old Sun is one of swimming’s most polarizing figures. At last July’s world championships in South Korea, Britain’s Duncan Scott refused to share the podium with him after the 200-meter freestyle, with Sun publicly calling him “a loser.” And, after Sun won gold in the 400 freestyle, Australia’s Mack Horton refused to take photos with him and accused him of being a “drug cheat.”

FINA sent warning letters to Sun, Scott and Horton after the incidents.

“FINA has currently done more to reprimand Mack Horton than they’ve done to reprimand Sun Yang,” American swimmer Lilly King said at the time. “So think about that. Pretty crazy.”

CAS ruled that Sun’s results since the incident will not be overturned because he had not actually tested positive for any banned substances. But if his appeal is unsuccessful, Sun’s competitive swimming career would appear to be finished.

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