11 September 2019

Sun Yang vs. WADA: What’s really at stake?

New revelations have recently come to light regarding the Sun Yang case, upending global public opinion by confirming that only one member of the testing team had adequate documentation to prove they were trained to perform the anti-doping tests on the swimmer. The revelations also called into question the ages of the other two Doping Control Officers (DCOs) and their medical training, according to Sun’s Attorney, Zhang Qihuai. 

In a second report from Channel News Asia, Sun states that there is possible security video footage of the anti-doping mission that night. ‘There is something I can’t say, I can’t make the truth public… But fortunately the surveillance cameras have recorded everything, otherwise I won’t be able to defend myself against irresponsible accusations,’ the swimmer stated on Chinese social network, Weibo (below).

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has announced that the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA)  appeal against the international swimming federation’s (FINA) decision (PDF below) to clear Yang will be held before the end of October 2019 in public, with full media attendance permitted. 

That changes the dynamics. This a major victory for transparency and athlete rights, and will force issues out into the open that WADA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and others may have been reluctant to address. 

Is this a case about an athlete attempting to cover up his own doping by smashing his own sample? Or is this a case that will possibly cause the exposure of the unmentionable? That not one, but two Olympic Games were compromised through cheating, like the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia? 

This time it’s the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. 

The spark and fuel for the fire

After more than four hours of: intense frustration; arguing among officials; frantic international calls for assistance and clarification; alleged questions regarding the IDs of DCOs and their ages; doubts about staff; possible videotaping and photography; and other questions about correct documentation; Sun’s anti-doping samples were finally smashed into pieces.

Sun Yang

One might imagine that after all of that, Sun Yang, a World Record holder and Olympic Champion, might well be staring at the ground in disbelief…

Yet in order to ignite condemnation and widespread anger by athletes against athletes, all that needs to be said is: Athlete. Out of Competition Test. Smashed sample. This will trigger a swift public reaction from athletes and media alike, who instantly jump to conclusions with venomous condemnation like piranhas on a kill. 

The public fallout against an athlete is all part of the plan. 

In anti-doping education, the athlete is always at fault due to the strict liability principles enshrined in the World Anti-Doping Code. This was originally designed to ensure that athletes are responsible for what goes into their body, beginning with steroids, however over time it has been applied in an ever growing encroachment, spreading to a variety of anti-doping system failures, abuses and cover-ups sliding the template over to blame the athletes for any number of issues. 

In the Sun Yang case, it would appear that there is a move to extend and stretch that liability to cover the entire anti-doping mission event in the out-of-competition test that night, no matter that the athlete has already been cleared by FINA’s Anti-Doping Panel. It found that Sun did not commit an anti-doping violation. What the athlete was facing that night, what he did or didn’t do, or what others were trying to protect him from, appears to have been lost in the march towards prosecution.

What rights does an athlete have during an out-of-competition test?

Can anyone name any rights held by athletes as their blood and urine is taken? No? Didn’t think so. It’s widely known in Olympic circles that dogs, ponies and animals in Hollywood films have more rights than athletes. 

Now WADA legal sharks smell blood and are circling. Do they want to discover the whole truth behind the case, or are they waiting for a chance to administer the anti-doping death penalty to Sun Yang – a lifetime ban?

The CAS hearing has all the necessary ingredients for an explosive whodunnit. Is it really about an athlete trying to cover up his own doping by destroying his own sample, or is it about something else? 

Background knowledge and perspective are important in this case against what may play out. It’s time to take a closer look at what is at stake between China, WADA, the IOC and Sun Yang. 

Russia’s Sochi 2014 doping scandal: a Chinese copy from Beijing 2008? 

After Icarus won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2018, the film’s Director, Bryan Fogel, gave an interview on ‘The Forward, Part Two’ (below).

“Grigory [Dr. Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, now living in the US under the FBI Witness Protection Program] told me a story that he got the idea for swapping the urine essentially from the Chinese in Beijing (Olympics 2008)”, states Fogel. “He was at Beijing and according to him, what the Chinese did in Beijing, if you look in Beijing the Chinese won 100 medals. Right? They swept the Beijing Olympics…”

“According to Grigory, what the Chinese did was not as sophisticated as the Russians”, continues Fogel (see below for relevant section). “What the Chinese did is that the Chinese athletes would report to the Doping Control Officers when they came into test. That there were certain agents that were basically Chinese government agents, right? And the athlete would know which of those agents to report to. And they would report to those agents and the Doping Control Officer that were watching them pee would have a little bag of urine. Give it to the athlete (motioning it was under his arm for a swap) to put under their armpit so the athlete could test clean. (He/she) would pee clean (performing a switch), which is why there were no positives for Chinese athletes out of Beijing (2008 Olympics). And if they go back to test those samples out of Beijing, they’ll find a ton of positives from other athletes but they’re not going to find positives from the Chinese.”

At the Beijing Olympics it was the IOC that was in charge of anti-doping testing, in partnership with the host nation’s national anti-doping organisation, CHINADA.

Chinese and Russian medal tallies 

The Chinese dominated the Beijing 2008 Olympics like never before in the history of the Olympic Games, with 51 Gold, 21 Silver, and 28 Bronze – 100 medals in total. This represents almost a 60% increase over their Athens 2004 medal count of 32 Gold, 17 Silver, and 14 Bronze – 63 medals in total. 

The Russians noticed that. They most likely concluded that if they knew what was going on in China, everyone else did too. They also noticed that such a result didn’t prompt the IOC and WADA to investigate. 

Two years later, at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Russia placed 11th in the medal table with three Gold, five Silver and seven Bronze – just 15 medals in total. This was down from the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics, where more Golds ensured it finished fifth in the medal  table, despite only winning 13 medals.

Like China, at Sochi 2014 Russia leaped to the top of the medal table from a low 11th place in 2010 to  first in 2014 with 13 Gold, 11 Silver, nine Bronze and a record total of 33 for first place in the medal table at the Winter Olympics, dominating like never before. This represents a 120% medal total increase in four years, and more than a third of all medals won at Sochi 2014. Two years later, we found out how they did it.

‘Russia’s leader had reason to be pleased as the Olympics dubbed the “Putin Games” ended’, reported AP News at the time. ‘His nation’s athletes topped the Sochi medals table, both in golds and total — 33. That represented a stunning turnaround from the 2010 Vancouver Games. Russia’s bag of Sochi gold was the biggest-ever haul by a non-Soviet team.’

Beijing 2008 represented China’s biggest-ever haul too. If through a national anti-doping authority a State can make all samples clean in an Olympic Games, propelling a country from the pack to the top of the medal table, then they can also make one sample dirty if you cross them. 

Dr. Gregory Rodchenkov knows that. Sun Yang knows that. So should Mack Horton and Duncan Scott. And the IOC and WADA are likely to have more suspicions and knowledge of what was taking place in Beijing 2008 than Bryan Fogel.

A frustrated Michael Phelps

In a recent interview, US Olympic legend Michael Phelps expressed his frustration that he doesn’t know what it’s going to take to change Olympic sport in order to catch doping cheats and to address the problems in anti-doping. This frustration compelled Phelps to ask why the anti-doping system was failing to catch doped athletes in sports. This same frustration was expressed by Bryan Fogel in the videos above, and was the driving motivational force behind the Icarus film. 

“I love how people are standing up and voicing their opinion”, Phelps told AP. “But at the end of the day […] there’s only one group of people who can really change this. That’s FINA. When FINA wants to do something, wants to change how this sport is seen after all these positive drug tests that are occurring, after all this controversy, maybe they’ll do something about it. It’s in their hands, in their control.”

Phelps and Fogel are not alone in their frustrations.

Strict liability to… investigate? 

If there is strict liability for the athlete to be held responsible for any Prohibited Substance in his/her sample, shouldn’t there be strict liability for WADA to investigate anything amiss in their (anti-doping) system? No matter who is involved, how large a country, when and where such an issue occured?

Measuring and finding 50 parts per billion in an athlete’s sample, or indirect evidence such as statistics for an athlete once 1.05% over an arbitrary line can trigger an investigation and a CAS case to ban an athlete for years, costing them millions in Euros. As such, shouldn’t much more broader evidence like a 60% or 120% increase in total medals and other related information trigger an investigation into possible State sponsored doping? 

“The bigger the problem, the easier it is to get away with”, said a former NADO (National Anti-Doping Organisation) CEO, asking to remain anonymous.

We know the thresholds for substances in an athletes system. What is the threshold for mandating an investigation by WADA, the IOC or FINA into potential State sponsored doping? What is the threshold for forcing WADA and/or the IOC to put a country into the penalty box and to keep them there?

With WADA possibly going for the death penalty on Sun Yang’s career, shouldn’t others be going for the same on WADA? Or China and CHINADA? Is WADA protecting clean athletes or CHINADA? Or are they self-insulating; protecting their funding, institutional relationships and the global anti-doping system they have created?

[Despite the fact that high profile athletes and anti-doping organisations opposed the action, WADA  reinstated the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). It did so despite the fact that the Russian State refused to acknowledge its role in directing the subversion of anti-doping in Russia, one of WADA’s original conditions that must be achieved before RUSADA could be reinstated. Whether WADA intended it or not, a signal was sent that State interference in anti-doping is tolerated.] 

[WADA’s inaction over Romania’s manipulation of the anti-doping system shows that little has changed. Such inaction is unforgivable, because the Russian experience has already shown the anti-doping community how lives can be endangered. In 2016, Yulia Stepanova and Vitaly Stepanov – the whistleblowers who gave WADA evidence of State doping in 2010 – were again forced to move location after criminals hacked into the Anti-Doping Administration and Management (ADAMS) system administered by WADA, revealing their location.]

[Andrey Dmitriev was also forced to flee Russia after attempting to corroborate who was behind the circumvention of the anti-doping system. As mentioned, Dr. Rodchekov has also fled Russia and is under the protection of the US Federal Witness Protection Program, after the death his colleague, Nikita Kamaev, in suspicious circumstances.]

[As such, WADA has a duty to expose State doping. As links between the Fancy Bears hackers and those responsible for the Sergei Skripal poisoning in Salisbury (UK) show, it literally involves life and death1.]

‘A lawyer for Russian whistleblower and former Moscow Laboratory head Grigory Rodchenkov – whose evidence was key to Russia’s suspension – called it “the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history”’, reported the BBC at the time. “The United States is wasting its money by continuing to fund WADA, which is obviously impotent to address Russia’s state-sponsored doping”, said Jim Walden [Dr. Rodchenkov’s lawyer].’

Your entire sport career subjected to the behest of a doctor

When an athlete has a cold or flu, or needs a prescription medication to treat a medical issue, there is nothing causing more apprehension and anxiety for athletes in many countries than knowing they have to consult with the recommended national team doctor or appointed specialist doctor. The reason is that not all doctors, not all NADOs are the same or held to the same standards of performance or knowledge of the Prohibited List, and/or have direct experience with its actual application. 

To be fair, enforcing global equal standards would be a practical impossibility. Like in sport, the playing field in anti-doping is never going to be level, despite the positions being continually espoused by those that govern anti-doping.

Athletes have no way of knowing that their appointed national team doctors and specialists are up to date at any given time on the Prohibited List. It boils down to each doctor’s personal individual effort, time and organisation. 

Examine Sun Yang’s first ‘offence’ and most likely you’ll find sub-standard anti-doping communications embedded at the heart of the problem, as they were with meldonium in 2016. Sun Yang’s medication, Trimetazidine, was known and recommended by team doctors and specialists, as it was with many other athletes around the world. 

But, when it was added to the Prohibited List four months prior to Sun’s Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF), the Chinese team doctor was not aware of the change, nor did he inform Sun Yang. BOOM! An Adverse Analytical Finding. Now he’s a doping cheat. A three month ban. His medication was permitted outside of competition, but a low residual amount was found in his system at a swimming event. 

The athlete is held responsible even when the communication chain from Montréal to China fails. Examine the entire system process of how communications function from Montréal to athletes (and doctors) around the world and you will find a sub-standard mishmash of messages, emails, platforms, standards, labelling and languages. For example, meldonium was included on Russia’s Vital and Essential Drugs List for 2012, as supplied to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Yet WADA failed to issue an update about its inclusion on the Prohibited List in Russian cyrillic script.

Anti-doping communications are nowhere near to matching the world-class performances of athletes. With no independent oversight or standards of operation in communications, the less you do to improve it, the more athletes you will catch as ‘doping cheats’. Such scenarios have been predicted for years. 

It could be simple to sort out. There should be a 24/7 WADA/CAS legal and authoritative hotline for athletes, DCOs and anyone in the testing system to receive urgent clear, undeniable, legal procedural guidance and information in a timely manner, 24/7, to prevent athlete career destruction. 

All NADOs are not created equal

As an athlete, do you believe in the anti-doping system? ASADA? CHINADA? WADA? Are all NADOs equal? 

WADA recently re-accredited the DPRK Anti-Doping Committee, overseen by North Korea’s Rocket Man, Kim Jong-un. ‘The decision means the North Korean body is able to resume testing without supervision’, reported InsideTheGames. 

If anti-doping is fair globally, why don’t Australian athletes – for example – swap competence with the Chinese, Russian or North Koreans to run their anti-doping programs? In major football matches, referees are appointed from ‘neutral’ countries. Wouldn’t this help stop corruption? Fly them in. Everybody is equal right? Aren’t all NADOs? All education systems? The quality of all doctors? 

It’s not even close. The disparities are huge and dangerous to athletes.  Would you want North Korean doctors doing out-of-competition testing or determining what medications to take if you were training in… Brisbane? Melbourne? Or at the High Performance Centres like in Sydney? 

Unfortunately, it is often the case that for world class athletes in China, Russia, Eastern Europe and South American countries – for example –  no matter how many times you express your apprehensions, no matter how many times you beg or you request them to call and consult with WADA and the Prohibited List, your entire career can lie with the behest and opinion of a single doctor.

TV and photography

What is also alarming in WADA appealing FINA’s decision on Sun Yang is the alleged videotaping and/or photography that took place. In 2007, German television crews accompanied doping control officers (DCOs) to an out-of-competition test at night at the home of one of the athletes and aired the ‘Mission: Clean Sport’ programme. Later, comments were widespread among officials and the general public about who the athlete was possibly sleeping with, or where he was sleeping.

Your entire private life is exposed and at risk when DCOs come to your home, especially with someone possibly videoing the event. What could possibly be uploaded on social media? On an internet site? Is the athlete exposing himself to possible blackmail and millions of dollars in costs? And Attorney fees? 

Max Hauke found this out to his cost, and so did the police officer who was fined for sharing a picture of him being caught red handed undergoing a blood transfusion. Even when actual doping is involved, there are basic human rights questions to be considered. 

Do athletes have any protection from bogus DCOs? Their inexperience or lack of medical certificates to draw blood? If DCOs don’t have credentials, is it a legitimate anti-doping test? Or do you assume IDs have been stolen and it is a bogus test? Or a television ‘gotcha’ programme impersonating an out-of-competition test, with video and photography? That’s what Sun Yang’s situation could look like. Others have tried it on athletes around the globe. 

Vote with your feet

Athletes who know something is wrong in their country, or in the anti-doping system will often vote with their feet and choose to train in a foreign country with a NADO uncompromised by corruption, such as  ASADA in Australia or USADA in the USA. Leaving a one party State like China or Russia and choosing to train with a foreign coach is an act of integrity in many cases. The athlete is saying without speaking, “I stand for clean sports. I want to train and compete fairly.”

But many athletes and so-called ‘western’ sporting ‘legends’ don’t get it. They’re too busy protecting their pristine status and gilded reputations. 

It is understood that some athletes retire is because they fear an inadvertent positive from one of their samples would ruin their careers, so it’s safer to quit early. An inadvertent positive is simply a matter of statistical chance, not whether or not you read the Prohibited List every morning during breakfast. And even if you do, you can be caught out by substances that are prohibited, but don’t feature on the List, as Mamadou Sakho found out. 

The longer you are in sports, the more likely your chance of inadvertently reporting an AAF, somehow, some way. In talking with many foreign athletes who have left their own country to train outside in the USA, Germany, Australia or other places, a foreign coach is also a form of protection around you from unwanted acquaintances on the ground, appointed by the government.  

The Chinese swimming federation and Coaches have exchanges, such as the one that exists with Bob Bowman (coach of Michael Phelps) at Arizona State University. The exchange programme there is an excellent example of cooperation and ‘cross pollination’. The Chinese Coaches and team Managers learn from the best in USA Swimming at ASU. It’s about sharing knowledge, and ‘forging partnerships with China to speed global innovation’. The ASU sports culture impressed the Chinese Coaches, as they learned how elite student athletes combine training, competition and classwork. 

However, there’s still a long way to go to change the Chinese government’s involvement in national sport. Often embedded ‘minders’, understood to be Chinese government officials, accompany foreign visits with the sport groups.

‘The Chinese team went into military training camp for the first time since 2006 following a worse than expected FINA World Championships in Gwangju in July’reported News.com.au. Chinese military training camps are notorious for their nearly endless drills, marching, memorisation, military lectures, mandatory phrase repetition and for intense analysis by Communist Party military leadership who point out athlete failures. Sun Yang was not at the camp.

‘Backstroker Fu Yuanhui said the training would steel the team and help the swimmers develop resilience…She was accused of watching too much TV’, continued the report. ‘I am enduring some difficult times in my career, but I have learned at training camp that I must keep trying, trying to make a breakthrough and never give up when encountering problems’, she reportedly wrote on Weibo.

WADA goals and an out-of-control testing mission

In many CAS doping cases, after discussing issues and what’s at stake, WADA Attorneys hold meetings with NADOs expressing their concerns and goals while listening to their counterparts, along with meeting and discussing talking points and questions with those related to the case. They may also meet or hold conference calls with other government officials, NADO executives, doctors, specialists or others. The purpose of such meetings is to build a case against the athlete.

One of the main questions so far is: Why aren’t they looking to prosecute the DCOs? Why isn’t this about suspending them for four years? Or CHINADA? Or sanctioning them for letting the out-of-competition testing fly out of control for four hours? 

Why didn’t they just come back the next day to test? That would be an easy solution, but one that the ‘strict liability’ provisions of the Code wouldn’t permit.

No. Athlete. Late night. Out-of-competition test. Turmoil. Smashed sample. 

What to do? Blame the DCOs? Or hold CHINADA responsible for the fiasco? Remember, in anti-doping… Always blame the athlete.

Warming up before the match

‘The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have backed former Moscow Laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov as a “truthful witness” in their first reasoned decision published following the Sochi 2014 doping scandal’, reported InsideTheGames. ‘The Commission, chaired by IOC Executive Board member and Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald, offered their full backing to Rodchenkov being a credible witness. They claimed evidence on file was found to have corroborated his statements […] “The compelling findings made by Prof. McLaren include the confirmation of the existence, during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, of a scheme in which the samples of protected Russian athletes, notably athletes on a preselected list, were swapped,” the Commission said.

‘Rodchenkov’s explanations over a clean urine bank were found to have been supported by additional evidence, while his statements given in connection with athletes whose samples were swapped but not included on the “Duchess List” – a list of protected Russian athletes – were also correct’. Maybe it’s time to revisit Dr. Rodchenkov and ask a few questions again? 

It was also noted that on 10 August, in a game of strategic Chinese chess, Sun Yang was appointed Deputy Director of Training at the Zhejiang College of Sports, his longtime training home guaranteeing him a future in Chinese sports. It is a great honour. Sun is the first athlete to hold such a position. However, one might argue that no such moves in Chinese sports are insignificant. 

What’s really at stake?

What is really at stake between Sun Yang, WADA, CHINADA, FINA and the IOC is no small smashed sample. The anti-doping system is at stake, and so are the relationships between CHINADA, WADA, the IOC and FINA.

In addition, an open public hearing risks exposing that the operations of CHINADA may not be in the same league as USADA or ASADA, leading to questions and potential revelations that the Beijing 2008 Olympics were compromised and involved cheating, as did the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. If such a scenario is accurate, this risks exposing that CHINADA – like the old RUSADA – is not a trusted partner, meaning any sample could be at risk.

WADA may seek to hold the athlete strictly liable at all costs any way they can. Not CHINADA or the anti-doping testing authorities for the breakdown and complete disintegration of the anti-doping testing mission that night – including the turmoil, the confusion, the four hour stand-off and… the smashed sample. 

The FINA Doping Panel decision (PDF below) provides some clues as to what may have happened. A young DCO employed by International Doping Tests and Management (IDTM) was in charge of Sun’s 4 September 2018 test, and requested not to be identified. Another refused to answer questions and was not present for the FINA hearing. Her name is Huangfen Lin, and she was the Blood Collection Assistant (BCA).

The young DCO in charge of Sun’s 4 September 2018 test was also present at a 2017 mission to test Sun, when she was being trained. As the FINA decision puts it: ‘The Athlete knew the DCO as he had interacted (unhappily) with her a year previously’. 

Mario Artur Dos Santos Simoes was the DCO supervising the 2017 testing mission, and reported that Sun was ‘extremely rude, abusive and uncooperative’, including being ‘particularly rude’ to the DCO that was being trained. It would appear that at the 2018 test, the same young DCO used a Doping Control Assistant (DCA) who did not have adequate identification documentation. 

‘During the blood collection process, the Athlete came to believe that the DCA, who was moving in and out of the doping control station, had been surreptitiously taking pictures and videos of him’, reads the FINA decision. ‘This caused the Athlete significant concern and sparked his belief that the DCA was not well-trained and could not possibly be an appropriately certified IDTM official’. Sun later witnessed such pictures on the DCA’s phone and successfully requested that they be deleted.

Sun’s doctor, Ba Zhen, was not satisfied that the DCA and the BCA (Huangfen Lin) were authorised by IDTM. The DCA apparently told Sun’s mother that he did not have IDTM authorisation documentation, but had been asked to witness the sample collection.

Dr. Ba apparently sought advice from his colleague, Dr. Han Zhaoqi of the Affiliated Sports Hospital of Zhejiang College of Sports. He expressed the opinion that the BCA did not present suitable documentation proving that she was qualified to draw blood. This BCA is Huangfen Lin, who refused to answer questions and was not present at the hearing. FINA agreed that the athlete was not properly notified with the correct authorisation documentation from IDTM.

What needs to be considered: 

• Although the DCO in charge of the 4 September mission to test Sun was authorised by IDTM, she had previously argued with Sun and so could not be considered neutral;
• Why did the DCO bring an unauthorised BCA and DCA with her to test Sun?
• Why did the DCO request anonymity?
• Who is actually driving this mission to test Sun?

Given the above, it is possible that Chinese government officials may have influenced the testing process, as Dr. Rodchenkov told Bryan Fogel they did during Beijing 2008. It would appear that the anonymous DCO felt confident enough in her authority to suggest any number of scenarios outside the limits of normal anti-doping mission testing procedures.

As stated in the FINA decision: ‘It is not sufficient to rely on a known IDTM DCO (as in the case at hand) to state verbally to the Athlete with reference to an attending DCA or a BCA (who have no official documentation from IDTM whatsoever), in effect: “they are with me, I will be in charge – everything is OK.”’ Yet that is what happened.

What the general public may have to face is: What if – for example – the smashed sample is not about covering up any doping at all, but is about possible protection from sample spiking?

China is not Australia or the US. And an open public CAS hearing is not like in China. 

And WADA is not used to them. 

What Sun Yang’s defence team should know is that if WADA or the IOC suspects or has any knowledge of any alleged Beijing 2008 doping program, swapping out doped samples for clean samples as occurred at Sochi 2014, then they know there is a possibility that ANY sample given to Chinese anti-doping authorities could be spiked with a prohibited substance for any athlete they choose for any reason. That was a factor with the Russian situation. The defence may demand any such information from WADA’s investigative unit in Montréal. Put everything on top of the table.  

Will WADA seek to stretch athlete liability for what’s in your system to athlete liability for any procedural failures of the anti-doping system initiated by anti-doping testing authorities? This would mean that anti-doping authorities cannot be procedurally at fault. Or will WADA seek the truth?

Having been found to be at no fault by FINA, will Sun Yang be thrown under a bus at CAS in some form of ‘negotiated settlement’ for the sake of continued good relations between WADA and the IOC ahead of Beijing 2022? Especially if there was anti-doping corruption during Beijing 2008? 

Who is more important? The anti-doping authorities? Or one athlete? Who’s more important to WADA?

Having a State sponsored doping scandal with possible sanctions against a country the size and economic value of China ahead of Beijing 2022 is unthinkable for IOC President Thomas Bach. The IOC wants to avoid the confusion and accusations of bending the rules in order to accommodate a valuable partner, which dogged Russia’s ‘neutral’ participation at the Rio 2016 Olympics and PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.

Who is the anti-doping poster boy?

Maybe Sun Yang is part of an alleged State sponsored doping system. Perhaps he is solely responsible for unjustified destruction of the sample. But… maybe not. Even if he was part of a State sponsored doping program against his own will, he has displayed more courage to get out from under it than the IOC or WADA have displayed to investigate and prosecute it.

There is more to swimming and the Olympics than just winning Gold medals. It’s a character issue. Some see themselves as honourable clean athletes fighting for clean sports and to train and compete cleanly any way they can, even if it means voting with their own feet to leave their country to train under a foreign coach, no matter what the cost.  

So who is the bigger man? The one who endures the ridicule, the false allegations and bad-mouthing, meet after meet, year after year from fellow athletes and others, who left his country to train under the most stringent NADOs and stands against what could be the biggest mother of all State sponsored doping programs in history, involving substandard testing and institutional corruption? Or the athlete doing a one-off, not standing on a podium during a national anthem?

• This article is an edited version of the original, which is available by clicking here.

1. Editorial comment added by Andy Brown, Editor, The Sports Integrity Initiative

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