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China in Shock as Swimmer Sun Yang Hit with Eight-Year Doping Ban

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The Court of Arbitration for Sport has delivered its verdict on controversial swimmer Sun Yang today after a prolonged battle over doping allegations. Sun, who has long received warm support from the Chinese public and is one of the country’s most famous sportspeople, has been hit with an 8-year ban, triggering shock on Chinese social media.  

A post on the ban from Sina Sports, one of the main sports accounts on microblogging site Weibo, racked up tens of thousands of comments within minutes as Chinese users mostly reacted with shock at the announcement.

The controversy began after three officials visited Sun’s home in China in 2018 to conduct an out-of-competition doping test. Yang allegedly accused the officials of not having paperwork to prove their identities and declined to cooperate. Matters escalated quickly and allegedly culminated in an altercation in which Yang’s mother ordered a member of Sun’s security team to smash the vials containing his blood samples with a hammer. 

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FINA, the international swimming federation, did not find the swimmer guilty of any wrongdoing. However, WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, appealed the ruling and brought it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In a rare move, Yang and his lawyers asked that the trial be made public in order “to be fully transparent and to clear his name.” 

Yang, the first ever Chinese man to win a gold medal for swimming in the Olympics, is one of China’s most beloved athletes. But since he tested positive for trimetazidine in 2014 and was subsequently banned for three months, his career has been under significant scrutiny. The New York Times called him “international swimming’s favorite villain” in a recent report of the case. 

Yang’s reputation has often played out in the public arena. After his 2018 200m freestyle win at the Fina World Championships, British swimmer Duncan Scott refused to shake Yang’s hand or stand on the podium with him. Yang also has a longtime feud with Australian swimmer Mack Horton, who called Yang a “drug cheat” at the 2019 world championships. Duncan and Horton have been viciously condemned by Chinese netizens (and, in Horton’s case, the Chinese Olympic team) as a result. 

After a contentious hearing riddled with translation errors, the judges at CAS deliberated for several months before arriving at the verdict. 

Allison Jiang
    Allison Jiang is a Baltimore-based writer interested in the intersection of art and culture. She is passionate about big dogs, social justice, and stand-up comedy, among other things.