[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 fourth part of a four-part series.
What Did the Doping Panel Find?
The panel did find that Sun was improperly notified — and took a strong stance on the importance of proper notification. “The Doping Panel rejects any argument or claim that the deficiencies in the notification procedure which it has identified are minor, do not impact the integrity of the blood sample that was collected and should not serve to invalidate the entire testing mission,” the report reads. “Notification is the ‘gateway’ into a realm of onerous obligations and responsibilities — all falling on the athletes.”
Essentially, the panel believes that if athletes are being held to strict, often inconvenient standards, so too should the testers. They further clarified that Sun’s camp’s dramatic actions in no way negate the testers’ mistakes. “The fact that the Athlete in this instance did elect to engage in very troubling conduct regarding the collected blood samples does not serve to eliminate the requirements by the IDTM and FINA to comply with the provisions contained in the ISTI [the document that specifies notification procedures].”
But crucially, the panel noted, even if it found the notification process to be satisfactory, there were additional grounds on which to void the mission. The DCA did not show up at the hearing to disprove Sun’s allegations that he had taken photos of him, and the panel found sufficient evidence there were photos taken of Sun. “He [the DCA] was the best person to disprove the serious allegations against him that were raised — but he failed to do so,” the report reads. It continues: “Chaperoning an athlete is a sensitive, personal and serious matter. It is not for ‘fans.’”
Similarly, the Panel also found that the blood collection assistant was not properly certified within the locality, as is necessary by ISTI rules. And as with the DCA, she did not show up to the hearing to disprove that finding. “The only evidence before the Doping Panel was that the BBCA was not properly qualified. There was no evidence to the contrary,” the report reads. “What is certain is that she did not produce unequivocal evidence of her qualifications to draw blood from the Athlete.”
The panel believes that the mission should have been abandoned once these “improper” actions were discovered.
Additionally, the panel maintains that Sun was not clearly told that his failure to comply would definitely result in an official strike against him. “The DCO must tell the athlete, in a language he can understand, the consequences of a possible Failure to Comply. Explaining the risks that certain conduct might lead to a violation is not sufficient. The DCO must go further and clearly articulate that she is treating the Athlete’s conduct as a Failure to Comply that the following consequences will apply,” they said. Instead, the report reads, Sun’s camp and the DCO just debated about who was “right” in this situation.
“There was no clarifying and crystallizing moment (a metaphorical “bang”) ensuring the Athlete clearly knew, in the face of the identified conduct, that his conduct was being treated by the DCO as a Failure to Comply and that serious consequences could apply,” they said.
In light of the fault wagered against the testers, the report does conclude with a few statements criticizing Sun’s camp’s conduct. “Avoiding an anti-doping violation in this matter should not be equated with with the Doping Panel condoning such a strategy in future situations. While ultimately successful, is was a close-run thing.”