Disgraced Chinese swim star Sun Yang has had a win in his appeal against an eight-year doping ban imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
A Swiss court has overturned the ban and ordered the case return to the CAS for a second time – with a different chairman of the judges.
In February, CAS found the three-time Olympic champion guilty of refusing to cooperate with sample collectors during a visit to his home in September 2018 that became confrontational.
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) brought the case to the CAS after world swimming governing body FINA issued the now 29-year-old Sun with only a warning.
At stake in a second CAS hearing is Sun’s chance to compete at the pandemic-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now set for July 2021.
On Wednesday, WADA said they had been informed of a decision by the Swiss Federal Tribunal to uphold an application by Sun and set aside the original February ruling.
The success of Sun’s appeal appears to have swung on an objection by his lawyers to the chairman of the three-judge panel, former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.
“The Swiss Federal Tribunal’s decision upholds a challenge against the chair of the CAS panel and makes no comment on the substance of this case,” WADA said in the statement.
“WADA 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 (chairman).”
A clash between Mr Frattini and Sun was one of the most dramatic moments in a 10-hour CAS hearing in Montreux, Switzerland in November 2019.
The hearing was a rare instance of a CAS process held in open court and live-streamed online, and ended with Sun surprising his own legal team by waving his arms and calling another translator from the public seats to better articulate his closing statement.
“Who is this guy?” asked an incredulous Mr Frattini.
“It is not up to you to appear before the court. There are some rules,” he said.
Mr Frattini upset Sun and his legal team with a series of past tweets, including one from April 23, 2019 that read: “Those horrible sadic chinese (sic) are the shame of mankind !! For how they torture animals they deserve the evil every day! And the chinese (sic) authorities tolerate and encourage.”
The most compelling detail of evidence submitted at Sun’s November 2019 CAS hearing was a blood sample, rendered useless for testing after being struck by a hammer.
The hearing was reminded of how a security guard instructed by Sun’s mother broke the casing around the vial to ensure the blood could not be used for anti-doping tests.
The 29-year-old, who won two gold medals at the 2012 London Games and another at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, is a controversial figure in the sport.
He served a three-month doping suspension in 2014 for taking the stimulant trimetazidine, which he said he took to treat a heart condition.
Australian swimmer Mack Horton openly called Sun a drug cheat at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and refused to share a podium with him at the 2019 world championships in South Korea.
The move was applauded by other swimmers but condemned by FINA.
Sun’s successful challenge sets the scene for another CAS hearing ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and ensures the case involving a controversial 2018 doping test continues into at least 2021.