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Chinese swimmer Sun Yang has eight-year doping ban overturned

Sun Yang received a temporary reprieve after his eight-year doping ban was overturned by the Court of Arbitration of Sport. (Jean-Guy Python/AFP via Getty Images)
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Chinese swimmer Sun Yang had his eight-year ban from the sport overturned after a Swiss court “set aside” a February ruling that effectively ended his competitive career. The decision came after Sun’s lawyers questioned the impartiality of Franco Frattini, a former Italian foreign minister and chair of the three-member panel that issued Sun’s penalty, and could enable Sun, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and 11-time world champion, to participate in the delayed Tokyo Olympics next summer.

The case will return to arbitration with a different chairman of the panel, although it is unclear when.

The Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) decision comes 10 months after it found that Sun refused to cooperate with anti-doping testers in September 2018 in violation of rules established by FINA, swimming’s governing body.

In testimony, evidence was presented that a security guard instructed by Sun’s mother smashed the box containing a vial of his blood with a hammer. After its initial investigation, FINA’s Doping Panel ruled that protocol was not properly followed. The governing body issued a warning to the swimmer, leaving some to wonder whether FINA was trying to protect one of its marquee names.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed to CAS, which 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.”

“WADA clearly prevailed on the substance of the case as it was able to show that there were a number of aspects of the original FINA decision that were incorrect under the World Anti-Doping Code and the related International Standard for Testing and Investigations,” it said in a statement Wednesday, adding that it will “take steps to present its case robustly again when the matter returns to the CAS Panel, which will be chaired by a different president.”

Frattini, who often tweets about the treatment of animals, has posted anti-Chinese sentiments and slurs in recent years, but Sun’s lawyers focused on tweets regarding the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China, sent in May and June of 2018 in their request for review against him. Frattini declined to comment on the situation because “he wanted to be able to read the court’s full reasoning first,” according to CNN.

In a statement to The Washington Post, a CAS spokesperson said those tweets “could and should have been disclosed earlier by Sun Yang and that any petition for challenge against Judge Frattini should have been raised during the CAS proceedings,” so that the court’s governing body could “deal with this matter before the conclusion of the arbitration.”

“The CAS very much regrets that the objections against the President of the Panel have not been raised earlier and that they could not be examined during the CAS proceedings. Obviously, the statements published by the President of the Panel on his personal twitter account in 2018 do not represent the view of CAS. In any event, the CAS will accept the ruling of the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) and will immediately resume the procedure WADA v. Sun Yang & FINA in accordance with the instructions given by the SFT.”

The spokesperson added that the decision to overturn the ruling “did not discuss the merits of the case.”

The 29-year-old Sun was suspended for three months in June 2014 after testing positive for a prohibited stimulant. CAS previously said his eight-year ban was in line with FINA rules regarding a second doping violation.

Sun is 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. He is also one of the sport’s most polarizing figures.

Britain’s Duncan Scott refused to share the podium with him after the 200-meter freestyle at last summer’s world championships in South Korea, prompting Sun to call him “a loser.” Australia’s Mack Horton did the same after the competition’s 400 freestyle. He accused Sun of being a “drug cheat” at the 2016 Olympic Games.

The decision regarding Sun comes a week after a separate CAS panel reduced Russia’s four-year ban from international sports competition following an appeal by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency.

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