[Editor’s note: In September of 2018, Olympic champion swimmer and world record holder Sun Yang had a run-in with drug testers that resulted in one of Sun’s bodyguards smashing a vial of his blood that was intended to be used to examine whether or not he was compliant with anti-doping rules. That much is fact. After that, the details get murky. In July, The Guardian leaked the full 59-page FINA Doping Panel report about the incident, to the chagrin of FINA, and this, at a minimum, illuminated the details of the “he said, she said” of that night. The report doesn’t answer all of the questions, but it is the best available information about what happened that night. The thought of poring through 59 pages of a doping panel report is a daunting time commitment, and making sense of it all and tying those dots together can be difficult. The result is that there has been a lot of misinformation about the incident, the panel, and its report circulating on pool decks and on social media. Between now and the November 15th-scheduled appeal hearing about the incident, we’re going to spend some time breaking down the report into more digestible pieces for our readers. This will include pulling in information not in the report where appropriate, examining rules cited, shedding light on who is involved, and helping our readers to better understand the knowns, the unknowns, and the process of this saga.]
The following is the first installation of four-part series.
Who and what is the FINA doping panel?
Contrary to what may be the common understanding of the situation, members of FINA itself (or the FINA Bureau) did not review Sun Yang’s case. FINA maintains a six-person doping panel to independently review cases in such instances as the one at hand. The Bureau does, however, have significant control over who is on the panel and for how long appointed members serve.
FINA member nations nominate candidates for appointment to the panel. Candidates are supposed to be “known for their ability, their impartiality and their knowledge about the FINA Rules as well as their experience of sport in general and the Aquatic sports in particular.” Candidates also have “legal training, experience and knowledge of doping matters.”
The Bureau picks from the applicants and can appoint picks “for such a number of successive terms as considered appropriate by the Bureau.” One panel member gets appointed chairman.
Whenever it is necessary for a panel to convene over a case, one to three members of the panel are appointed. No member can hear a specific case when he is a citizen of the country of the individual or organization under review. The panel chair can also determine if there are other potential conflicts of interest at play.
Currently, the panel consists of the following six men:
- Robert Fox (SUI), chairman
- Farid Ben Belkacem (ALG), member
- Bill Bock (USA), member
- Peter Kerr (AUS), member
- David Lech (CAN), member
- Toshiro Ueyanagi (JPN), member
Fox, Ben Belkacem, and Lech were appointed to Sun’s case. Fox has worked a handful of cases regarding swimming in recent history, among them the Kira Toussaint, Junya Koga, Matthew Willenbring, Henrique Martins, and Kylie Palmer cases, which have had a mix of results (including in the Toussaint case, where the case was totally dropped as a false-positive, and in the Willenbring case, where the suspension was reduced to 4 months). Lech works as general counsel for the Canadian Center for Ethics and also worked on Toussaint’s and Willenbring’s cases. Ben Belkacem worked Park Tae-Wan’s case in 2015 as well as Koga’s and Palmer’s.
The trio also comprised the doping panel that initially sanctioned American Madisyn Cox to a two-year ban (later reduced to six months on appeal and with new information) in 2018.