Hammer Hearing: Sun Yang Lost in Translation – From Babylon Dawn To Cameo Dusk

Sun Yang, with his counsel Ian Meakin to the left, in Montreux at the CAS hearing - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord sunyanglast3 sunyangsketch
Sun Yang, with his counsel Ian Meakin to the left, in Montreux at the CAS hearing - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Hammer Hearing – Sun Yang Vs WADA At CAS, Montreux, November 15

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It started with Sun Yang‘s testimony being lost in poor translation and ended with a farcical cameo of just the kind of emotion and strong will to get his own way that what may well have led the Chinese swimmer to put his “entire career on the line” in the first place.

Sun landed himself a Court of Arbitration hearing – here’s how that unfolded minute by minute – because he and his entourage thought they knew the protocol and rules of anti-doping better than the three agents working for IDTM on behalf of FINA at an out-of-competition test visit at his home in Zhejiang Province last September.

The spirit of that moment was alive and kicking here in Montreux today at the end of some 10 hours of deliberations when a young man in a blue shirt sprang ion to the stand to sit next to Sun as the official translator was in mid flow during the swimmer’s closing remarks.

“What is happening?!” asked Judge Franco Frattini. “Who is this guy?!”

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Sun Yang and Dennis Cotterell heading to the hearing – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

If Aussie coach to Sun, Dennis Cotterell, was just one of many in the room with a clock on Sun’s last 1000m, 10-minute deadline, dash to persuading a panel of three CAS judges of his innocence at the end of a long day in a suit of a different kind, Judge Frattini weighed up the two pressures on his scales of justice: time and integrity.

The official translator had a word in Sun’s ear and then explained that the swimmer had brought the young man in to better explain in English the nuanced words he’d crafted and and did not want to see lost in translation.

Not in my court, fought Frattini. “This is a court, we have a procedure here, you can’t just appear from nowhere …”. There was a hint of defiance, shrug and sigh about the young man: enough attitude to have Frattini send him packing back to the public gallery before telling the official translator that Sun’s 10 minutes were up but he would grant him four more! A full 1500m. No retirement from the big laps yet.

Sun Yang faced a sea of cameras - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Sun Yang faced a sea of cameras – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Sun picked up the pace as though Paltrinieri was in the seat beside him (more on that closing remark later…). No faulting his endurance.

Against a backdrop of tall ray-lit windows, Sun was first to rise to give evidence soon after the cameras had been washed out of the room when the whirring and clicking and capturing of a grand entrance was done. It was soon after 9am in the conference hall at the hotel overlooking Lake Geneva, a venue more used to hosting the famous Montreux Jazz Festival and celebrating the likes of Freddie Mercury, a statue of the late Queen frontman just along the shore from a sea of controversy.

Sun was dreaming more of We are the Champions and the Show Must Go On than Under Pressure, let alone Another One Bites the Dust.

Things hit a strained note from the start. “The translator has not translated,” said Sun’s lawyer Ian Meakin. “He doesn’t understand.” Shortly afterwards, Meakin complained again. “I’m sorry for leading but the translation was so bad,” he said.

Meakin objected for a third time. It turned out that the lady in the box, hired by Sun’s team as translator, had translated “200 times” (as in tested 200 times) to “200 milliliters of blood”. Oops!

“If you want him to answer the question, the translation must be correct,” said Meakin. Everyone nodded.

New Translators, Please

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A hearing awakes – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

CAS general secretary Matthieu Reeb shrugged a little, noting that the interpreters were provided by the participants – namely, Sun and entourage.

He said the problem made the hearing more complex “because it slows down a little bit the procedure, we have to ask the witness or the parties to repeat the answers or the questions and this is not a good point.”

While Sun carried on giving his testimony, WADA folk sped off to find a translator of their own.

During a one-hour testimony, Sun repeated his claim that the anti-doping officials were not properly identified.

“I realised they didn’t have any papers to prove their identification.” That, said WADA counsel later, was not the case – and what was provided was a good as it had been in hundreds, if not thousands, of others cases.

Ming Yang: I’m Not Done Yet!

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Ming Yang took to the stage but when the curtain fell she staged a comeback and gave her own version of events to the large contingent of Chinese media in Montreux for the CAS Hearing – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Ming Yang, Sun’s mother, later took the stand in what was something of a combative testimony in the afternoon. She admonished lawyers, insisted on getting her version of events across like any warring mum coming to see the headmaster would when facing a complaint about their butter-wouldn’t-melt possum. She admonished lawyers and when the time came for her to leave the stage, she wasn’t ready to go, telling the panel: “But I’m not finished yet.”

She’d certainly have been a formidable force on the night she told anti-doping agents that she’d call the police if needs be.

Brent Rychener, counsel for WADA, asked if she’s understood at the time, back in September 2018, that the DCO had objected to Sun going to the bathroom alone.

Ming Yang set sail: “I think this is a very critical moment in the event. I think this is quite an important detail which is why I want to provide more detail.”

Then have your son’s counsel ask, Rychener indicates as he taps his proverbial watch and asks: “… did you insist on calling the police”?

Ming Yang says: “We find there is a significant difference between the DCO version of events and …”.

Ming Yang takes the stand and big screen - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord sunyangMon5

Ming Yang takes the stand and big screen – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Again, she’s cut short: “Yes or no – did you insist on calling the police?” insists Rychener.

She admits: “I said that I will report it to the police.”

A few quick-fire questions on and Ming Yang returns to the old chestnut: the Sun entourage had no confidence in the authority of the testing team.

Had her son torn up the doping control form? “What happened is, we observed a number of discrepancies between the DCO report and … the doping control form was right in front of my son, not in a binder….”

Cut short again, Ming Yang’s cardigan seems more puce than pink now. Says Rychener: “But there is no doubt, your son tore up the doping control form he had earlier signed, correct?”

There’s no definitive yes. No definitive no.

Meakin, counsel for her son, asked Ming Yang about calling the cops.

“My Intention to call police is to have them come and monitor the procedure. If I had told the police would not have been so bad.”

“No further questions,” says Meakin.

That’s when she says it: “But I’m not finished yet.”

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Sun Yang – Parting Shot Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Time up, she left in a huff like a relay racer all warmed up only to be left warming the reserve bench. Come the next break she was in tears, 20 Chinese journalists, three camera crews for comfort. Why had she come all this way to be denied a platform from which ton tell her version of events to the world? You could see it both ways. She had indeed come a long way. Then again, 10 hours of evidence is enough for any sane soul in search of life.

Her 2m son stands tall in a Chinese crowd and most others too. Literally. And in terms relative to the polarising nature of his presence in the pool.

In Gwangju at World titles back in July, there were podium protests by Mack Horton and Duncan Scott; and back-up support for the sulk on Sun from Katie Ledecky, Adam Peaty and Co.

Sun thought it all rather unfair. He detailed how he and his entourage had doubted the qualifications of the officials conducting the doping test at his home that escalated into a confrontation. “How are you able to trust them?” said Sun, whose own doctor has been suspended twice by WADA.

Trust. A tricky thing.

Dr Ba had been called to help on the night in question on September 4-5, 2018. A security guard instructed by Sun’s mother used a hammer to smash a box containing a vial of his blood during a late-night dispute after the swimmer questioned the collection team’s credentials. Sun said he was not respected by the officials, including a chaperone he said asked to take an Instagram Insty of him.

“This is really ridiculous,” Sun said in translated comments. He had a point wider than he might have imagined.

On the hammer blow, counsel for WADA, Rich Young, later said in a summing up that hammered the hell out of arguments for Sun and FINA:

“That is pretty sensational. But he was nailed on a tampering violation before any of that happened.”

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Sun Yang sums up as hall empties go journalists gone to work on their words… Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

He noted the submission for judgement a big fat folder of the statements of Sun and his entourage that was “heavy on red lines” representing all the changes the witnesses had made to the stories they told the FINA Doping Panel but had either abandoned altogether (including Sun’s original claim that the blood nurse had allowed him to take the blood sample away) or changed in significant ways.

If WADA’s appeal is upheld, Sun could find he’ll be below the swimming horizon when the Land of the Rising Sun welcomes the world for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. The risk of a big ban looms all the larger for the 2014 positive test hovering ever over his head along with 180 in-and-out-of-comp tests, 60 of them conducted by Sun, though neither he nor Dr Ba could recall how many tests IDTM had been present for.

The CAS Panel conducted itself with aplomb this day, Romano F. Subiotto QC and Prof. Philippe Sands QC demanding that counsel for the parties set a high bar for their professions and ask, as Sands put it, not just about their argument and what the client wants but ‘what would the Panel be thinking now’.

Sun Yang, with his counsel Ian Meakin to the left, in Montreux at the CAS hearing - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord sunyanglast3

Sun Yang, with his counsel Ian Meakin to the left, in Montreux at the CAS hearing – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Sun’s blood got up when he tried to get his mind round how it came to be that a ‘secret’ FINA Doping Panel hearing report had made its way to the likes of me. There was, he said, a “black power” (lost in translation = dark force) at play, though the room was full of light.

The parting memory of this day was the boy in blue popping up as Sun sought to impose his own rule on Judge Frattini’s courtroom. Like Frattini, WADA showed itself keen today to say ‘this is our realm, our rules – and there’s a whole load of reasons why we must insist: you shall not pass’.

Decision is due sometime between New Year and Chinese New Year on January 2020, the Year of the Rat. The Rat is the first of all zodiac animals, one myth holding that the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the sequence of their arrival at his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride and at the last moment sprang from height to helm of race.

In yin and yang, the Rat is yang and represents the beginning of a new day. What kind of new day remains to be seen.