The furore surrounding Australian swimmer Mack Horton’s controversial reference to Chinese rival Sun Yang as a “drug cheat” is threatening to descend into a full blown diplomatic incident if the rhetoric coming from the Chinese media is any indication.
Horton, who edged Sun for the gold medal in the men’s 400m freestyle final in Rio, admitted his comments were a tactical ploy to unsettle his main competitor, but refused to back down post-race.
Sun, who won two golds at the London 2012 Olympic Games and managed to overcome the distraction to take out the 200m freestyle event in Rio on Tuesday (AEST), was banned for three months in 2014 for testing positive to the medication trimetazidine.
Sun claimed he did not know the medication, which he says he took for chronic heart palpitations, had been placed on the list of banned substances.
Horton, 20, has been hammered on social media by incensed Sun supporters, while Chinese media giant The Global Times has launched attacks against Horton and just about everything related to Australia in a series of stinging editorials.
Here’s a sample of the most outlandish claims and bizarre insults aimed Down Under as an international feud picks up momentum.
Mind your manners
China’s swimming team manager Xu Qi launched a furious blast at Horton, calling for an apology for what he described as a “malicious personal attack”.
Xu Qi went on to say that Horton speaking out against Sun Yang was “proof of a lack of good manners and upbringing. We strongly demand an apology from this swimmer”.
An off-shore prison
Chinese tabloid newspaper The Global Times took the age-old ‘convicts’ sporting sledge to unprecedented levels, highlighting Australia’s history as a penal colony.
“In many serious essays written by Westerners, Australia is mentioned as a country at the fringes of civilisation,” the tirade read.
“In some cases, they refer to the country’s early history as Britain’s offshore prison. This suggests that no one should be surprised at uncivilised acts emanating from the country. We should think the same way.”
The Global Times took aim at the Australian media as a whole for distributing and seemingly advocating Horton’s ‘drug cheat’ comments.
“[Horton] couldn’t hold in his cynical smugness after beating Sun, and the Australian media recklessly spread Horton’s rude speech.
“We don’t know if it is Horton who is silly or it’s the Australian media that is evil, or perhaps Australia just has a different moral standard.”
In a subsequent article bemoaning the “smug” Horton’s refusal to apologise, The Global Times accused Australia of being insecure, subservient to America and Britain, and chauvinistic towards Asian countries.
“From China’s perspective, Australia, an English-speaking and developed country, is a typical part of the Western world,” they said.
“But actually, Australia has always been a ‘second-class citizen’ in the West, and many people from Western Europe, especially the UK, feel condescension toward Australians.
“Eager to be completely accepted by the Western world and afraid of being overlooked, Australia has grown docile and obedient in face of the US and the UK.
“However, in front of Asian countries, it cannot help but effuse its white supremacy. The tangle of inferiority and superiority has numerous reflections in Australia’s foreign exchanges.”
The media and Swimming Australia got another bake in The Global Times’ follow-up editorial piece.
“The problem is that it seems the entire sports circle and media in Australia do not have a problem with Horton’s ill-mannered and provocative remarks. In a response to the CSA, Swimming Australia didn’t forget to flaunt the ‘freedom of speech’ cliché with a swaggering ego.
“According to their logic, it seems that no matter how derisive and slanderous the remarks could be, it is all free speech, which should be praised.”
The Global Times didn’t mince words when sharing its latest anti-Australian diatribe on Twitter.
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 9, 2016
“China cannot be distracted from its own path of development, so it should turn a blind eye to what should be despised,” the editorial read.
You are racist! Please apologize to Sun Yang and all Asian athletes! @_mackhorton
— CareyCecilia (@Careycelina520) August 7, 2016
Horton was labelled a racist by scores of Sun Yang supporters, a tag also slapped on some Twitter users who dared take the Australian’s side.
For the record I'm not the Australian swimmer who said something about a Chinese swimmer #sunyang
— Mark Horton (@_markhorton) August 7, 2016
English IT worker Mark Horton unwittingly became a Twitter sensation after being mistakenly trolled by irate Chinese fans who wanted to have a crack at an Aussie with a similar name.
Even our neighbouring New Zealanders weren’t able to stay out of the firing line.
After Aussie comedian Wil Anderson weighed into the controversy with a light-hearted jibe on Twitter, one Chinese social media user got into a bit of a muddle over Australia and New Zealand’s cultural history.
— Brittyn Clennett (@BrittynClennett) August 8, 2016