Mack Horton ‘Must Lose His Medal’ Was Call Of FINA Bosses After Podium Protest Against Sun Yang

(L-R) Second placed Mack Horton of Australia keeps his distance to winner Yang Sun of China while they pose with their medals for photographers after competing in the men's 400m Freestyle Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 21 July 2019. Gabriele Detti of Italy finishes third.
Mack Horton, left, keeps his distance to Sun Yang for the photo-op with bronze medallist Gabriele Detti after medals in the 400m free at world titles in Gwangju ... podium protests followed after Sun Yang's latest brush with anti-doping authorities - Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Mack HortonDuncan Scott and the object of their podium protests at World Championships in Gwangju last year, Sun Yang, were all slapped with warnings from FINA but some of the most senior bosses at the international federation initially wanted to strip the Australian Olympic champion of his medals.

That’s the stark claim of sources close to the very helm of FINA, as reported in The Sunday Telegraph in Australia today as part of investigations into the governance of the sport of swimming with The Sunday Times in London, the Frankfurter Allgemeine in Germany and Swimming World.

Horton, who at Rio 2016 called Sun a “cheat” after the Chinese swimmer tested positive for a banned substance in 2014, claimed the Olympic 400m freestyle crown ahead of defending champion Sun in Brazil. A year later, Sun claimed the World title in Budapest and then in 2019 retained the crown ahead of Horton once more.

In September 2018, Sun had an argument with anti-doping testers near his home in Zhejiang Province. Egged on by three figures in Chinese swimming, Sun signed off a blood sample into the chain of command but then took it back, arguing that two of the testing team had failed to produce adequate identification and qualification paperwork. The acrimonious session ended with a security guard called by Sun’s mother, Ming Yang, smashing the casing of the vial of Sun’s blood on the pavement outside the control room while Sun shone his smart phone torch on proceedings.

A FINA Doping Panel issued Sun with a heavy caution in January 2019 in a confidential ruling that was exposed by this author in The Sunday Times three weeks later. By March, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had lodged an appeal against the FINA decision with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. After a hearing in November, a panel of three senior judges gave its verdict: Sun received an eight-year suspension in accordance with WADA’s request, having been found guilty of tampering with an anti-doping sample.


Mack Horton celebrating Rio gold – Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia

With knowledge of the 2014 ban and with WADA having challenged FINA’s ruling, a CAS hearing pending, Horton was among many swimmers expressing the view that Sun should not be allowed to compete in Gwangju. But he did – and he topped the 400m final and then the 200m final after Lithuanian Danas Rapsys was disqualified for moving on his blocks at the start of the race.

The Sunday Telegraph stunned Australian readers today by revealing that powerful FINA executives were so incensed by Horton’s protest that they had already made up their minds to make an example of the Australian before leaving their VIP seats.

FINA did not reply to a request for comment but highly placed sources privy to the eventual decision to issue warnings have confirmed that the most hawkish executives were adamant that the harshest of punishments was needed to prevent further demonstrations.

Against a backdrop of scenes never before seen in swimming at an Olympic Games, Sun having been booed to his blocks in all of his races as athletes and coaches protested over a backdated three-month suspension that was never actually served for the Chinese swimmer’s anti-doping infraction of 2014, some of the most senior FINA figures wanted to put a lid on it all by making an example of Horton as a warning to others.

The price would be his silver medal.

However, as reporter Julian Linden puts it:

“The majority of executives were not convinced, partly because they had already seen other leading swimmers, including two dozen Australians, stand their ground against FINA by joining the rebel International Swimming League and they feared severely punishing Horton would only deepen the divide.”

It is understood that some FINA members were even privately supportive of Horton’s opposition towards Sun. They were also uncomfortable with the notion of making an example of Horton for fear that it would look as though leniency was reserved for one Olympic champion, Sun, while another Olympic champion would be dealt with in an overly harsh manner.

There was another fear, too. Swimming officials, as political events in 2017 – when one FINA executive was blocked from having his complaints about two others, go to a full hearing of the FINA Ethics Panel – and our report about finances last week showed, are known for being slow when it comes to investigating serious accusations against their own members.

Horton and Scott were to be dealt with instantly, however, says senior sources. Immediately after Horton’s podium protest, FINA Director Cornel Marculescu called a meeting of the executive board for the day after Horton’s protest. As Linden reports:

“Cooler heads advised him to let Horton keep his medal but receive an official warning. Marculescu agreed, but with an extra sanction. When the full executive met the next day, it was announced that Swimming Australia would also be given a formal reprimand. Unimpressed, Swimming Australia kept quiet, for reasons that became apparent a few days later.”


Stand-off: Britain’s Duncan Scott, right, refuses to pose with Sun Yang, flanked by Katsuhiro Matsumoto, left, and Martin Malyutin, after the 200m free medals ceremony – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

One day later and it was Scott’s turn to protest in the same way: by stepping aside when podium photos were being taken. As Sun passed Scott when leaving the stage, he shouted at the British sprinter and made his own protest at the situation as public as it could be, the whole thing unfolding in full view of TV cameras under the championship logo “Dive Into Peace”.

This time, FINA bosses were even faster off the blocks: not only did Scott and Sun get slapped with warnings but FINA rushed through changes to a Code of Conduct, empowering executives to strip swimmers of medals for protesting at ceremonies.

The latest twist in the tale of Horton’s protest forms part of investigations carried out by reporters from three mainstream newspapers and Swimming World.

Last week we ran exclusive reports over complaints of financial irregularities at the European Swimming League (LEN) that were submitted to prosecutors in Switzerland and Italy after a member of the top tables of FINA and LEN found his efforts to resolve matters within “the swimming family” were blocked.



  1. Johnny Karnofsky

    And where was FINA when the ENTIRE EAST GERMAN TEAMS were being systemically doped at the orders of the government without the knowledge or permission of the athletes? The 72 and 76 women’s swimming events are tainted by cheating….. SMMFH ??

    • Craig Lord

      Johnny Karnofsky giving GDR officials Fina honours, that’s where … and those officials, including the criminally convicted, have those honours yet

    • Johnny Karnofsky

      There is precedent for stepping in, reviewing those events, rewriting the record books and redistributing the medals to those who were playing fair……

      Just look at what happened when Lance Armstrong and his “truth” came out…..

    • Craig Lord

      Johnny Karnofsky Indeed… won’t happen in swimming unless the major feds insist and get a grip of governance they do actually have significant say in and control over… regardless of whether the beg to differ on that … they are ‚Fina‘

  2. James Anthony Neals

    Will see.

    You’ll no longer see sun yang on the field by the way.

  3. Darrell Reed

    Only one deserving of being stripped of ALL medals is that Cheating Chinese Charlatan!

  4. Darrell Reed

    FINA Is corrupt and should be abolished!

  5. Pamela Goldsbro

    FINA totally on the take from the Chinese. Ironically they won’t take the medal of the drug cheat. They are just a joke.

  6. HJ Oxie

    FINA has no credibility, they are on the Russia/China payroll. Sun will be swimming in Tokyo 2021 and there is nothing anyone can do. The right people will be paid off to support him. The fact that FINA was upset about the Horton/Scott protest proved my point. They embarrassed FINA and I’m proud to support Mack & Duncan.

  7. Carlos Lomba

    So what if they want to strip Mack of his silver medal when the medal he actually deserves to have received was the gold one. That silver medal is basically pointless and he probably instead of having it decorated in the wall where he could actually feel proud of it has it stashed away on a drawer. Sun Yang and his cronies followers are a bunch of bullies and thugs that have gotten away with way too much for too long.

  8. Jason Matthew Renshaw

    FINA are just as crooked as Sun Yang and the Chinese Swimming Federation.
    The swamp needs to be drained as they have zero credibility.

  9. Rich Davis

    Like all international federations they have become as corrupt as a day is long. It’s time to clean house at FINA as has been done at IAAF, UEFA and FIFA, but hopefully more successfully.

  10. Jennifer Chu

    Matt Horton had no right to behave as he did, he behaved in a shocking, childish manner . Certainly not appropriate for a medal ceremony. He should have been disciplined immediately.

    • Ed Burton

      Jennifer Chu of course he did, if I was him I wouldn’t have turned up for the medal ceremony. The amount of hours of training he puts in and then get beaten by a cheat must be so demoralising.

      • avatar

        His Name is Mack Horton. Maybe if you invest more time into the facts of the conversation you’ll learn how to write his name properly as well. Also he was reprimanded after his podium protest.

    • Melissa Flanigan

      Jennifer Chu spoken like a true chinese … you know Sun Yang stole medals from multiple olympians even if he is stripped of all
      His medals he stole the glory of those athletes standing on the podium at those tournaments … no one will remember anything about this other than Sun Yang is a cheat.

    • Jennifer Chu

      Melissa Flanigan You are wrong, don’t let my name fool you, I’m a Caucasian Australian. Should I say The topic here is Matt Horton not Sun Yang who has been punished. Along with the USA Swim Team Matt Horton displayed badly behaved arrogance during the entire games. He was an embarrassment to Australian swimming.

    • Melissa Flanigan

      Jennifer Chu Sun Yang should not have been allowed to swim … his cheating was months before this meet – in the same circumstances Australia did not let their swimmer compete at the meet … Do you remember that …. she was flown home and told she was not allowed to compete until her hearing determined her fate – China should have done the same … this was Mack’s point – he should not have even competed in the carnival he should have been banned from training with the Chinese team until his investigation was complete …. like in every other sport

    • Melissa Flanigan

      Jennifer Chu it was inappropriate of me to assume your heritage or alliance by your surname – I apologise

    • Kristi Kay Chenoweth

      Jennifer Chu Mack Horton, not Matt Horton. And podium protests need to continue if FINA continues to turn a blind eye to cheaters.

    • Jason Swaim

      CCP paying you to post propaganda?

    • Jennifer Chu

      Jason Swaim Stupid, idiotic, nonsense, non thinking response.

    • Rich Davis

      Jennifer Chu FINA allowed Sun to swim knowing he was dirty. The swimmers knew he was dirty yet their international federation refused to do anything about it. It was therefore incumbent upon the athletes to show their dissatisfaction with both Sun and FINA. Nothing changes until you take a stand. Fortunately others have taken action to ban Sun otherwise FINA would still be letting him swim.

    • Donald P. Spellman

      Rich Davis : Yang is also a jerk in the warm-up pool to fellow competitors.

    • avatar

      Any nationality shouldn’t accept taking drugs in sport!! Shame of you for this comment, athlete for multiple doping and those who pushed and accepted this procedure in professional sport.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Jennifer… how do you think that sounds to those who want clean sport. So, banned substance, hitting a woman in warm-down pool, smashing a locker in with a kick, etc etc… all fine and worth only a three-month suspension never actually served. Refusing to pose for photographs with that perpetrator is childish and shocking and deserves instant punishment? Come off it… if only you applied the same principle to Sun, who is now barred for eight years for tampering with an anti-doping sample. Not childish, sadly not shocking – but a million times more wrong that exercising a right to have your image associated with clean sport and not compliance with a system that allows those who fall foul of doping rules and face a second penalty beyond a hearing at appeal to race on regardless of the harm such things cause … Mirror, mirror on the wall…

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Jennifer, your opinion is somewhat stronger than your knowledge of the swimmers you’re commenting on… as others have noted: basic info – his name is Mack to Matt…

  11. Ed Burton

    I don’t expect Horton or Scott care if they lost their medals, they won’t look on them with any fondness knowing they were beaten by a multiple cheat.

  12. Donald P. Spellman

    FINA is full of corrupt politicians. These in many cases are not former coaches, officials, or athletes. They are self centered and opportunistic fools (mainly old men) who run our sport at the very highest levels. FINA needs a multi level housecleaning and more transparency.

    *Good to know the podium protesting did catch their attention!

  13. Melissa Flanigan

    Fina should
    Not have let Sun Yang compete at all with an unresolved drug allegation!!! Now proven cheat!

  14. Jesse Goodyear

    I don’t think I would want a medal from FINA if they allow drugs and cheating in sport! Kay Macpherson

    • Kay Macpherson

      Jesse Goodyear EXACTLY…!!! It’s a shame they don’t give medals to governing bodies and then take them back if they don’t perform..!

    • Kay Macpherson

      Jesse Goodyear Can you imagine if they had to actually perform well…???

  15. Carrie Power

    We all know FINA is corrupt and in cahoots with Sun Yangs family on a personal level.

  16. avatar
    Joseph Kemper

    FINA must be DISBANDED. How much longer will each countries’ governing bodies put up with the blatant corruption!!