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BEIJING, CHINA – JANUARY 18: Sun Yang of China celebrates winning the gold medal after competing in the Men’s 200m Freestyle Final during the day one of FINA Champions Swim Series 2020-Beijing at Ying Tung Swimming Hall of National Olympic Sports Center on January 18, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo : Lintao Zhang/Getty Images))
Sun Yang’s dreams of competing at the Tokyo Olympics came to a sudden end on Tuesday after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) banned the Chinese swimmer for four years and three months. The verdict ended the Chinese star’s hopes of defending his Olympic crown in the 200-meter freestyle event in Tokyo next month.
CAS deals Sun huge blow
Initial charges were filed against Sun for refusing to give a sample and tampering with a doping control. The case stems from a 2018 incident in which a sample collection team failed to take urine and blood samples from Sun when they made an unannounced visit to the swimmer’s home in China.
The said meeting became confrontational after Sun questioned the officials’ credentials. Sun’s entourage then ordered a security guard to destroy the casing of a blood vial with a hammer so that the sample would not be valid for testing.
A tribunal set up by FINA, swimming’s governing body, initially just warned Sun about his conduct at that time. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), though, appealed this ruling to CAS, requesting a harsher penalty for Sun’s actions. Sun had already served a three-month ban imposed by Chinese officials before in 2014, after he tested positive for a stimulant was deemed illegal at that time. The said ban was controversial, though, as it was not announced until after it ended.
Given that this was Sun’s second offense, WADA asked authorities for a ban lasting two to eight years. Sun got the maximum eight-year ban in a rare CAS hearing that was held in open court and was streamed online back in November 2019. The said hearing lasted more than 10 hours at a special court session in Montreux, Switzerland.
Sun got a reprieve, though, after federal judges ruled that that guilty verdict by the three-man panel of CAS was tainted as their chairman displayed anti-Chinese bias in his social media comments. As a result, a retrial was ordered with a new set of judges tackling the case. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the case was heard by video over three days last month. The judges made sure the ruling came a month before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, which begin on July 23.
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Sun found guilty but Olympic career far from over
Sun was found guilty all over again by the new judges who deemed the Chinese star’s actions “reckless” when he refused to give his blood and urine samples to anti-doping officials. The 29-year-old’s Olympic career isn’t completely over, though, as his sentence was about half the eight-year sanction handed down after the first trial back in 2019.
FINA officials, who have long been criticized for protecting Sun, the sport’s biggest star in a key commercial market, changed their rules in anti-doping cases this year as an eight-year ban for a second offense can now be possibly reduced. That was indeed the case for Sun who can now return to competitive action for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Sun has been a polarizing figure on the pool with opponents constantly branding him a cheater. He has won three Olympic gold medals in his career.
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