Fina warns Horton after podium protest

Fina, the global governing body of aquatic sports, has today (Monday) warned Swimming Australia and its athlete, Mack Horton, after the Australian staged a protest against Chinese rival Sun Yang.

On Sunday, Sun beat Horton into second place in the men’s 400-metre freestyle final at the ongoing 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, A number of swimmers are said to be uneasy about Sun’s presence in Gwangju as he is set to face a pivotal Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September over an alleged doping incident last year.

Sun, who has already served a three-month doping suspension in 2014, is at the centre of a World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) challenge to Fina’s decision to merely warn the Chinese star over incidents during a doping control team’s attempts to take blood and urine samples at his home in China in September 2018.

During Sunday’s podium ceremony, Horton refused to step onto the podium or shake Sun’s hand, continuing years of animosity between the pair. “I don’t think I need to say anything,” Horton said yesterday, according to the Associated Press news agency. “His actions and how it has been handled speaks louder than anything I could say.”

In response, Sun had stated: “Disrespecting me was OK, but disrespecting China was unfortunate. I feel sorry about that.”

A statement released by Fina today read: “While Fina respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context. As in all major sports organisations, our athletes and their entourages are aware of their responsibilities to respect Fina regulations and not use Fina events to make personal statements or gestures.

“The matter over which Mack Horton was allegedly protesting is currently under review by CAS and therefore it is not appropriate for Fina to prejudice this hearing by commenting further.”

The response to Sun’s participation in Gwangju is being seen as a further barometer of athlete power in swimming. Swimmers are long said to have been uneasy with Fina’s response to doping incidents in the sport and the AP said Horton received a standing ovation from his fellow athletes when he entered the dining room at the athletes’ village.

“We were waiting around for the awards ceremony just to see what was going to happen,” said US swimmer Lilly King, according to the Reuters news agency. “It was awesome. When we walked into the dining hall he walked in after us and the whole dining hall erupted into applause. It was pretty good to see the athletes united on his stance and supporting him as well.”

Another prominent battle ground between Fina and its athletes has been in the formation of the International Swimming League (ISL), which has notably proposed a rule preventing any athlete taking part who has previously served a doping ban. Fina has launched its own Champions Swim Series, which debuted in Guangzhou, China in April.

King added that swimmers are annoyed by the fact that doping still continues to cast a shadow over their sport. She added: “I don’t think anyone at Fina is going to stand up for the athletes so the athletes have to stand up for themselves. I think it is definitely a start.”