In response to recent podium protests at the 2019 World Championships, 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps voiced his views on athletes protesting during medal ceremonies when the other medalists have doping convictions.
“I love how people are standing up and voicing their opinion,” Phelps said. “But at the end of the day, there’s only one person, only one group of people who can really change this. That’s FINA. When FINA wants to do something, wants to change how this sport is seen after all these positive drug tests that are occurring, after all this controversy, maybe they’ll do something about it. It’s in their hands, in their control,” reports AP News.
Phelps’ statements come in response to controversial podium protests by Australian Mack Horton and Great Britain’s Duncan Scott in response to the presence and participation of Chinese swimmer Sun Yang‘s at the 2019 FINA World Championships, which concluded Sunday in Gwangju, South Korea. On the first day of the meet, Horton didn’t even step onto the podium to receive his silver medal in the 400 freestyle, which was won by Sun. For his actions, FINA issued a ‘warning letter’ to Horton.
Days later, during the victory ceremony for the 200 freestyle, which Sun also won following the disqualification of Danas Rapsys of Lithuania, Scott stood on the podium to receive his bronze medal, but refused to shake hands or pose for pictures with Sun. As the two were leaving the podium, Sun confronted Scott, getting within inches of his face to tell the British swimmer something to the effect of “You lose, I win.” The confrontation earned them both warnings from FINA, and the organization made a statement on medal ceremony conduct in general. Sun and Rapsys, however, were seen behaving amiably on the pool deck following the 200 freestyle.
Sun was cleared to compete at the 2019 World Championships by an independent FINA anti-doping panel despite an appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport over a quarrel he had with anti-doping testing officials in which he is alleged to have instructed a bodyguard to smash a vial of his own blood. Refer to the following stories for more information on Sun’s blood vial controversy:
- Daily Telegraph Unearths Full 59-page Report From 2018 Sun Blood Vial Incident
- Sun Yang Expected to Face CAS Hearing in September
- CAS Clarifies Sun Yang Hearing Timeline, Explains Inability to Expedite
- WADA Appeals to Court of Arbitration of Sport in Sun Yang Decision
- FINA Won’t ‘Consider Further Speculation and Hearsay’ About Sun Yang
- Vial of Sun Yang’s Blood Allegedly Smashed With Hammer In Drug Test Altercation
Though Phelps seems to support the outspokenness of swimmers who want to stand up to those known to have committed doping offenses, he acknowledges that in doing so, swimmers are also shifting their focus from their own goals.
“When your energy goes into that, it takes away from your swimming,” Phelps said. “I was very clear how frustrated I was that people chose to use performance-enhancing drugs instead of preparing themselves, putting in the work and putting in the training and doing what it takes to be a champion instead of taking the easy way out. But I wasn’t going to waste my time and my energy to focus on somebody else and what they were doing. That was out of my control.”
“I’m sure Shirley Babashoff didn’t want to stand up next to the East Germans to receive a silver medal,” said Phelps, paying homage to Babashoff who, at the 1976 Olympics, called out the notorious East Germans for their systematic doping.
“Nothing has changed from 40 years ago. That’s where I really, really struggle. FINA can do something about this, but they refuse to do something about this. That’s upsetting,” says Phelps.