After appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), Chinese swimmer Sun Yang received a less severe penalty from his previous confrontation with anti-doping officials in 2018. Rather than the previous eight-year-long ban, the well-known athlete will be banned from participating in competitions for four years and three months.
“The new Panel found Sun Yang to have acted recklessly in particular when he refused to allow the blood samples to leave with the Sample Collection Personnel, causing the abortion of the out-of competition anti-doping control of 4-5 September 2018,” noted in the CAS decision: “The new Panel considered that the circumstances surrounding the sample collection of 4-5 September 2018 merited a period of ineligibility at the lower end of the range: namely the addition of the 3-month period (from 2014) to the 4-year ban applicable in this second case.”
Sun was found guilty of violating anti-doping protocols and received an eight-year ban in an earlier arbitration decision by the CAS. However, a Swiss Federal judge struck down the previous verdict after Sun’s attorney claimed that the chairman of that previous three-person panel had been biased towards people of Chinese descent on social media. According to AP News, a different panel heard the retrial over three days and fast-tracked the decision ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which is scheduled to open on July 23.
The latest verdict significantly reduced the earlier penalty, which would last for eight years. As a result, Sun will not be allowed to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but may return for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. However, it remains uncertain whether Sun will continue his swimming career after the ban.
In September 2018, the athlete confronted anti-doping officials, refusing to render blood and urine samples during an unannounced visit. Sun questioned the officials’ credentials at the time and ordered security guards to destroy the blood samples with a hammer.
The World Anti-Doping Agency(WADA) took Sun Yan and the international swimming governing body Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) to the arbitration court after FINA only sent a warning to the Olympic champion about his conduct. WADA requested a two-to-eight years ban on the grounds that this was Sun’s second doping violation. He had previously served a three-month ban in 2014.
In a statement, WADA said they welcome the ruling. “The decision by the Swiss Federal Tribunal to set aside the CAS award was limited to a challenge made against the Chair of the CAS Panel and had nothing to do with the substance of this case,” said Olivier Niggli, the Director of WADA. “Today’s ruling reconfirms WADA’s position in relation to the original FINA ruling, which was that there were a number of points that were inconsistent with the Code. Today’s CAS ruling validates those concerns.”
FINA also published a statement following the verdict, acknowledging the court’s decision: “Notwithstanding any further legal action, and as directed, FINA will implement CAS’s decision with regard to disciplinary action against the swimmer. FINA has also noted CAS’s provisions with regard to the modification of competition results.”
Sun Yang was the first Chinese swimmer to win gold medals in the Olympic Games, securing two in the 400m freestyle and 1500m freestyle in the 2012 London Games and one in the 200m freestyle in Rio in 2016. Sun is also the world record holder for the 1500m freestyle competition.
Controversies around Sun Yang were circulated among athletes since 2016. Australian swimmer Mack Horton called Sun Yang a drug cheat at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and refused to stand with him on the medal podium at the 2019 FINA World Championships. Speaking to a French radio station, French swimmer Camille Lacourt claimed that Sun “pisses purple” in 2016. Scottish swimmer Duncan Scott also declined to share the medal podium with him in 2019. Sun fired back at Scott after the medal ceremony, saying “I win, you lose” to Scott. That confrontation led FINA to issue warnings to both swimmers.