Sun stands strong in fight to clear name

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Chinese three-time Olympic swimming champion Sun Yang (C) arrives at a public hearing in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Montreux, Switzerland, on Nov. 15, 2019, as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appealed against Sun Yang and FINA over FINA's previous decision in favor of Sun on his alleged anti-doping rule violations. (Photo by Alain Grosclaude/Xinhua)

The resilience of Sun Yang was once again on display in the Swiss town of Montreux on Friday. Resilience to sit through a near 11-hour cross-examination and resilience to hold his head high even in the face of hostility and prejudice from the international swimming community.

"An athlete may have a good career, but it's the quality of being able to pull oneself together and stay level-headed even after being treated unfairly that defines a great athlete," the three-time Olympic champion told Xinhua in an exclusive interview after Friday's marathon Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing over an alleged anti-doping violation.

"This case is destined to take a place in history, and in my heart for the rest of my life."

The case stems from a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appeal against a Jan 3 ruling by swimming's world governing body FINA that found Sun not guilty of the alleged violation.

Sun was accused of not cooperating with three anti-doping officials during a random test at his home in China in September 2018.

"During the inspection, I realized they didn't have any authorized papers to prove their identification," Sun testified on Friday.

After almost 11 hours of testimony which was marred by poor translation, Sun expressed his relief that over a year of anxiety and pressure forced upon him, his family and the entire Chinese swimming team was coming to an end.

He said, whatever the arbitration ruling, his case will encourage athletes from all over the world to take a stand against unfair treatment.

"Individual athletes are always the underdogs when defending their legal rights in the face of unfair treatment by sports organizations. That is why I insisted that the hearing be public. I only regret that it was not held much earlier, as I have been waiting too long."

In his final statement to the court, Sun said that he had kept photos and video recordings that detail what really happened that night with the three anti-doping test officers, but he was not permitted to show them in court.

"That part was not in my prepared written speech. I wanted to tell them that I had come all the way with nothing to hide and that everything I said in the court stood up to inspection," Sun said.

"I had hoped that the three anti-doping officers in question could have faced me in person today. It's a case of an athlete defending the basic rights and privacy that he is legally entitled to.

"It's not out of the question that anti-doping organizations demand from athletes full acceptance of and compliance with anti-doping test procedures. But anti-doping officers must properly notify athletes before conducting the procedures that they have the authority and accreditation to do, as stipulated (in WADA's International Standard for Testing And Investigations)."

Sun won 200m freestyle gold at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and 400m and 1,500m freestyle golds at the London 2012 Olympics.

The 27-year-old also claimed 200m and 400m freestyle titles at the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, where Sun felt he was the victim of a witch hunt. "I could tell that some vicious force was manipulating public opinion against me and even the whole Chinese swimming team during the world championships in Gwangju," Sun said.

Less than a month after FINA's January ruling that Sun was not guilty, the confidential decision was leaked and published in the media.

Then during the Gwangju worlds, Australian media published details of the ruling. But the failure to publish the full report, only presenting sections out of their wider context, misled the public and inflicted huge mental stress upon Sun.

"Accusing an athlete of violating anti-doping rules without proven evidence is extremely disrespectful," Sun lamented.

"The good news is that all the stress is gone now after the hearing. I'm not worried about the final decision of the arbitration. I'm confident that after today, all anti-doping test agencies will stick to the rules closely, which in turn will give much better protection of the legal rights and privacy to all athletes."

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