China’s Olympic swimming star Sun Yang has declared his innocence after he was found guilty of breaking anti-doping rules and sensationally banned from competition for eight years.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling could effectively end the controversial 28-year-old’s career and has vindicated his bitter rival, Australian Mack Horton, who had staged podium protests against the gold-medallist.
“This is unfair. I firmly believe in my innocence,” said a defiant Sun, who is considered China’s greatest-ever swimmer and one of its biggest sports stars.
“I will definitely appeal to let more people know the truth.”
Horton, who had accused his opponent of being a “drug cheat” which sparked a simmering feud between the two swimmers, responded to the ruling by reiterating his position against drugs in sport.
“My stance has always been for clean sport,” he said in a statement.
“It is not, and never will be about individuals or nations. Today’s outcome does not change my stance.”
Sun was handed the sentence on Friday (Australian time) for his role in tampering with one of his samples in September 2018.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had appealed a decision by swimming body FINA to clear Sun of wrongdoing for his conduct during the doping test when he questioned the credentials of the testers before members of his entourage smashed vials containing his blood samples with a hammer.
CAS accepted the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) appeal.
In a rare hearing in open court in November, evidence was presented of how a security guard instructed by Sun’s mother broke the casing around a vial of his blood, while the swimmer lit the early-hours scene with his mobile phone.
Remove all his medals, a cheat
— Gary Jenkins (@GaryOJenkins) February 28, 2020
“The athlete failed to establish that he had a compelling justification to destroy his sample collection containers and forego the doping control when, in his opinion, the collection protocol was not in compliance,” CAS’s three-judge panel decreed in a unanimous verdict.
A 10-hour hearing broadcast on the court’s website showed Sun, who had asked CAS for the public trial, to be evasive at times under questioning that was hampered by severe translation issues between Chinese and English.
The CAS panel’s verdict was delayed until all parties got a verified translation.
The two-metre Sun, the first Chinese swimmer to win Olympic gold, has long been a polarising figure.
Rivals branded him a drug cheat at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and Australia’s Mack Horton and Britain’s Duncan Scott refused to stand with him on medal podiums at the 2019 world championships.
Now banned until February 2028, the 28-year-old Sun cannot defend his 200-metre freestyle title in Tokyo, and a comeback at the age of 36 is almost inconceivable.
The World Anti-Doping Agency went to CAS after a FINA tribunal only warned Sun.
The first ruling was that anti-doping protocol was not followed, making the samples invalid, and cited doubts about credentials shown to him by the sample collection team.
@_mackhorton a great win for sport but even greater win for athletes like you champ who train by the book and compete with natural ability!! This is outstanding news #SucksToBeSun #CheatersNeverWin https://t.co/7W6AQvAHnT
— turtleshellfitness (@TurtleShellFit) February 28, 2020
“WADA … is satisfied that justice in this case has been rendered,” the body’s director general Olivier Niggli said in a statement.
Sun can now appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court, but only on narrow procedural grounds.
His lawyers have already had three federal appeals dismissed on legal process issues.