Sun Yang Withdraws From 1500m At Last World Titles Before Facing CAS Challenge From WADA

yang-sun-2017-world-champs
Sun Yang. Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Sun Yang, the Chinese Olympic freestyle champion facing a challenge from the World Anti-Doping Agency at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, has withdrawn from the 1500m at the World Championships that get underway in the pool on July 21.

Chinese media report today that “considering the competitiveness and the tight schedule of these events, Sun decided to withdraw from the 1,500m in order to conserve his energy for the remaining races”.

That explanation does not stack up. The longest race falls after all of Sun’s other individual races, the 1500m final on the last day in Gwangju. Even so, it has been judged a challenge too far for Sun, the 2012 Olympic champion at the distance. He will race the 200, 400 and 800m, defending the world crowns in the shorter of those two distances.

Sun is reported to have set his sights on winning Olympic gold in what will be a new event for men at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Should he succeed, he will establish a new line in swimming history as the first man to claim Olympic gold at all distances from 200 through 400, 800 and 1500m. At Rio 2016, he lost the 400m crown to Australian Mack Horton and was unable to defend the 1500m title but Olympic gold over 200m made him the first to claim victory in all three distances.

In 2014, Sun tested positive for a banned heart stimulant. The case was controversial because it took more than six months for the positive test to be revealed. By the time Sun was handed a retrospective three-month suspension, he had raced to victories at the Asian Games. He did not actually serve any time out.

Dr. Ba Zhen, a member of Sun’s medical team and an Olympic doctor for the Chinese team, received two suspensions as a result of the case. During the time he should have been serving a one-year suspension for supplying banned substances to Sun, Dr Ba worked with Sun on the deck at the Asian Games in Incheon, Korea. A second penalty was served for breaking rules that prohibit any banned athlete or official from working in the elite competitive environment during suspension periods.

China argued that Ba’s “mistake” was down to a failure by Chinada, the Chinese anti-doping agency – to update the Chinese version of the WADA Code with the latest updates, including the addition to the banned-substances list of trimetazidine, the substance for which Sun tested positive.

Sun has had many brushes with authorities, at home and abroad, over the years. At the 2015 World Championships, Chinese officials withdrew Sun from the 1500m final at the eleventh hour, sparking a furious row with the swimmer. The official explanation given by FINA for the withdrawal included concerns over the swimmer’s heart.

As he approaches World Championships in Gwangju next week, Sun is awaiting a hearing at the Court of Arbitration brought by WADA in the wake of events surrounding an out-of-competition test request near the swimmer’s home last September.

WADA is challenging a decision by the FINA Doping Panel to let Sun off with a series of cautions after he was party to smashing a container of his blood with a hammer last year. Sun faces a lifetime ban if the case goes against him. The news was broken by The Sunday Times in London back in January, prompting a call from leading athletes for the Chinese swimmer to face consequence.

One of China’s biggest sports stars, Sun was slapped with several warnings by the Doping Panel of FINA, the international swimming federation, in the report of a November hearing into the events of September 4 last year, when an out-of-competition testing team arrived at his home in Zhejiang Province.

Towards the end of four hours of argument between the swimmer, his entourage, including his mother, a security guard and Ba Zhen, protocol was broken before the vial of Sun’s blood when the swimmer left the control room without the permission or escort of the chief testing officer, according to the report of the FINA Doping Panel hearing on the case.

The FINA Panel heard that Sun then assisted the security guard, including shedding light on events from his smartphone, as a vial of the swimmer’s blood was smashed with a hammer.

Doping control provisions allow any athlete to register objections to any parts of a test for WADA and others to consider in the event of a problem. That point is made strenuously in the Doping Panel’s cautions to Sun before the lawyers conclude: “Staking an entire athletic career on being correct when the issue is complex and contentious is a huge and foolish gamble”.

At the start of the testing session, just after 11pm, Sun had objected only to the man present to observe him produce a urine sample. Ba Zhen arrived on the scene at around 2am and soon after insisted that the nurse who had collected Sun’s blood did not have the qualification required to collect blood “in China”. The FINA Doping Panel noted that the nurse “may well have been properly licensed” for doping test collection purposes but it would “never know”.

The World Swimming Coaches Association has noted that the only accreditation and status required for a nurse to collect blood in an international test in sport is the global certification and permission provided by the testing agency, for all in all nations.

Head of WSCA George Block, said the Doping Panel had “lost all of its ethical spine, all its moral authority”. He asked: “Who brings a hammer to doping control? Who brings his mother to watch him pee? No one past age three. How was a twice-suspended doctor even allowed in the doping control area? How did he get the appropriate ID?”. He added that a nurse “not being ‘licensed to practise in China’ is ridiculous”.

Sun’s success in avoiding a suspension had “ultimately hinged on the Doping Panel’s interpretation” of what “official documentation” meant in terms of what was required to be submitted as identification for the man present to observe Sun produce a urine sample.

It was, said the FINA lawyers, “a close-run thing”. WADA believes it was too close and contest that the matter should have ended at a warning only.

The Doping Panel’s decision to have the case hinge on an interpretation of singular and plural sits uncomfortably with the FINA Constitution. Under C3, on definitions, FINA Rules state:

C 3.20 – Whenever the fact or context so requires in order to give effect to the FINA Rules, words in the singular shall include the plural, words in the plural shall include the singular; words of the masculine, feminine or neuter gender shall include any gender, except in the specification of a Competition being for male or female Competitors; and correction of any clerical errors shall be made.

In the scope of CAS, FINA Rules are significant, while the key rules in play are those of WADA and the WADA Code.

8 comments

  1. Jason Matthew Renshaw

    Dirty Drug Cheat. Plain and simple and the swimmers know it.
    .
    Should be wiped from the record books and banned from all competition.

  2. Warren Deyzel

    This guy…. went from being my hero 8 years ago to just being bad for the sport and the opposite of what I teach my swimmers. His attitude stinks , complete lack of respect for other swimmers and apparently a cheater also…

    Just stop swimming Sun

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