Sun Yang & Team Face New Questions Over 2014 Doping Positive

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Sun Yang’s 2014 Doping Positive Comes Back Into View As Chinada’s Datelines For Its Chinese Version Of The WADA Code Raise Questions  

Sun Yang, the Chinese swimmer slapped with an eight-year-ban last month after a row with anti-doping testers in 2018, tested positive for a banned substance in 2014 four months after the drug in question had been listed and published in a Chinese version of the WADA Code, documents being circulated in China appear to show

When Sun tested positive for the heart booster trimetazidine during national championships in May 2014, the reason subsequently given by the Chinese Swimming Association (CSA) for a lenient backdated three-month suspension that was never actually served was a mistake made by CHINADA, the Chinese anti-doping agency.

Sun’s doctor, Ba Zhen, could not have known that the medicine he had long prescribed for Sun had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency‘s list of banned substances because of a delay in the translation of the Chinese version of the WADA Code, the CSA argued.

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CHINADA backed that line of defence when it issued an apology for late translation of the 2014 WADA Code. The explanation was accepted by FINA, the international federation, and WADA as reason to let China’s ruling of a retrospective three-month suspension stand.

The penalty was widely criticised by swimmers and coaches around the world as representing another “lenient” punishment of the kind applied to “stars” but never to lesser-known swimmers who might have been looking at a minimum suspension of two years for the same offence under WADA rules.

In the storm of Sun racing to World titles at the Kazan 2015 global showcase for swimming, Cornel Marculescu, the director of WADA-Code signatory FINA, told reporters at German TV station ZDF:

“You can’t condemn the stars for a minor doping offence.”

However, documents now circulating in China raise new questions about whether the 2014 case can still be regarded by officials as being as “minor” as the CSA originally claimed.

In the wake of an eight-year suspension being imposed on the fallen star of Chinese swimming after he was judged to have fallen foul of anti-doping rules for a second time in 2018, documents in circulation in China appear to show that CHINADA had its translated version of the code ready on January 24, 2014, complete with clear reference to trimetazidine. The documents carry a publication date of January 28, 2014.

In September of 2014, Sun raced to three titles at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Ming Yang, Sun’s mother, has since revealed in a social chat post widely saved and distributed in China before it was deleted that the three-month suspension period was arrived at by Chinese officials so that her son’s results in Incheon would stand.

It was October 2014 when CSA officials told Sun, according to Ming, that the case would be kept secret and the penalty required to satisfy international authorities would be framed to safeguard Sun’s medals. Ming wrote (her words translated by two translation services for Swimming World – in full at the foot of this article) that officials told Sun:

“If we report this offence in the way we left it, it will not be approved. Now the Asian Games are over, your result will not be affected and the final outcome in this case will not be announced to the public either.”

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Any penalty opposed from the May 24 date of the offence would leave Sun free to race on from late August, three weeks before the start of action in Incheon.

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Dr Ba was subsequently handed two concurrent one-year suspensions, the first for prescribing a banned substance (reported by the CSA to and accepted by WADA), the second after this author asked WADA what it thought of the fact that Ba had been photographed working with Sun at the Asian Games at a time when the doctor should have been serving a suspension.

At the time, FINA told The Times that Dr Ba was not accredited by China in Incheon so there was no action it could take. Photographs show that Dr Ba appeared on the deck in Incheon in full Team China kit, however, and the likelihood of him being accredited as a freelance doctor at a major international event “stretches credulity to breaking point”, according to one member of the FINA Medical Commission.

Swimming World today handed the references that raise new questions about the 2014 case to WADA. The anti-doping agency is making no comment on Sun during the 30-day period in which the swimmer can appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal against a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling in favour of a WADA recommendation to impose an eight-year ban on the three-times Olympic champion for tampering with a blood sample signed into the anti-doping chain of command in September 2018.

CAS delivered its verdict on February 28.

Sun, 28, was handed what is effectively a career-ending eight-year suspension for tampering with a blood sample smashed by his security guard at an out-of-competition test in 2018. That eight-year suspension, based on the doubling of a four-year suspension allowable for tampering because Sun already had a doping penalty against his name from 2014, could now result in new penalties not just for Sun but members of his entourage and the CSA if the agency finds reason to go back on the 2014 case in light of new evidence.

Depending on the outcome of the Sun appeal at the SFT, WADA may also consider penalties for the three men exposed in the CAS hearing as having encouraged Sun to break the WADA Code by urging him to take back a blood sample from testing agents that he had already submitted to and signed off into the chain of anti-doping custody.

The Men Closest To Sun

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Dr. Ba Zhen, working with Sun Yang on the deck at the Asian Gamnes in 2014 at a time when he should have been serving a one-year suspension

Three of the men closest to Sun in a professional sports capacity – Dr Ba, Hao Cheng, the national team leader and a boss at the CSA, and Dr Han Zhaoqi, Chief Doctor of the School where Dr Ba works, and Chief Doctor in Affiliated Sports Hospital of Zhejiang College of Sport and deputy head of the Zhejiang Anti-Doping Agency – all have questions to answer if the verdict against Sun stands.

In explaining how Sun, who in 2012 became the first Chinese man ever to claim Olympic gold when he won the 400m freestyle at London 2012, came to have tested positive for trimetazidine in May 2014, Dr Ba  and Hao Cheng lent on ignorance to defend the swimmer.

The drug had only been added to the WADA banned substances list from January that year but the Chinese translation of the updated code was “not available until months into the year”, they claimed.

Sun’s ban in the 2018 tampering case last month turns a super trouper on Ba, Hao and Han. All three, the CAS agreed with WADA after a November 2019 hearing, had persuaded Sun to take back the blood sample he had signed off into the anti-doping chain of command in September 2018. That and their “intimidation” of testing officers, as Richard Young, the world body’s legal counsel described it, tests the WADA Code.

Ming Yang Turns Inadvertent Whistleblower

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Ming Yang took to the stage but when the curtain fell she staged a comeback and gave her own version of events to the large contingent of Chinese media in Montreux for the CAS Hearing – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Sun’s mother, Ming Yang, posted a long note recently on a social chat channel in which, in defending her son, she revealed previously hidden aspects of his experience in Chinese swimming.

Some Chinese fans have turned on Sun since the CAS published its full report on March 4, while calls have been growing for CSA heads to roll, particularly since Ming Yang posted the following note, replicated in full for the first time in English, courtesy of two independent translations used to verify authenticity and accuracy:

I feel extremely helpless, I was sleepless and sad that my son’s 20 years of efforts in competitive swimming could possibly end due to the power of lies.

My son has overcome so many difficulties and faced unfair treatment in the pool. Thinking carefully about the past years, I did a few things inappropriately so that I have to apologise to, but feel no regret towards, the Chinese National Sports Administration but I apologise to and feel very sorry for my son.

In 2008 Nov, Sun Yang experienced chest pained and suffered from arrhythmia following the flu. After going to 5 different hospitals, a panel of cardiac specialized doctors diagnosed Sun Yang with myocardial ischemia, and suggested Sun Yang to take VASOREL, Trimetazidine to treat myocardial ischemia. Trimetazidine is one of commonly used medicines in clinic to cure myocardial ischemia. Sun Yang occasionally took VASOREL, Trimetazidine under the doctor’s advice when Sun Yang did not feel chest comfortable, which was totally legal as this substance was not banned at that time.

VASOREL, Trimetazidine appeared on the list of banned substances on 2014, 01 Jan. However, China Anti-Doping Agency did not update National team and other local teams so no any swimmer was aware of it.

In May 2014, after one month recovery training following a surgery on paronychia, Sun Yang participated in National Championships. Since busy competition schedule and high intensity competition, Sun Yang experienced cardiac pain again. Then Sun Yang took VASOREL, Trimetazidine. Unexpectedly, Sun Yang tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart booster that joined the banned substances list at the start of that year. The National hearing was held in July, 2014.

One month later the CSA had imposed a fine of RMB5,000 (about pounds sterling 550) and issued Sun with a warning for his May 2014 positive test for trimetazidine, a heart booster that joined the banned substances list at the start of that year. Sun was then approached in October 2014 by CSA officials after Asian Games, told Sun:

“If we report this offence in the way we left it, it will not be approved. Now the Asian Games are over, your result will not be affected and the final outcome in this case will not be announced to the public either. We can say that the penalty was for three months sometime between May and August 2015 [sic, but 2015 is likely to be a typo, the discussion all about a three-month penalty in 2014].”

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Sun’s first reaction was to strongly disagree. But I think that since the leaders tried to persuade us on behalf of the CSA, they must have thought about the consequences. So there should be no problem and we should also respect their authority and save their face. I tried hard to persuade Sun Yang but he still disagreed. Then I exceeded my authority to agree on his behalf. As a result, the face of leaders and the CSA was saved, but it has become the biggest shame of Sun Yang’s swimming career.

The China Swimming Association assigned an inexperienced and irresponsible lawyer for the international (CAS) hearing later 2019.

This lawyer failed to present much important evidence for Sun Yang. The interpreter in this hearing was not able to translate properly. I made requests, many times, to the China Swimming Association to replace this lawyer and interpreter with more experienced ones, but I was rejected and [the CSA] threatened Sun Yang that he would lose the support from the authority in his legal case against WADA this past year if he did not accept the lawyers and translators they allocated to him even though both Sun and [his mother] were unhappy with the choices.

I understand that not everything is under Sun Yang and my control, but if there is one more chance, I would insist on changing the lawyer and translator due to their lack of professionalism, experience, and capability, then I would believe that the outcome might be different.

The 2018 Case That Went To CAS After WADA Successfully Challenged A FINA Doping Panel Decision

7 comments

  1. John John

    Shame on you Sun what a disgrace to humanity

  2. avatar
    rick sterling

    I don’t know whether this CHINADA document is legitimate or not but it does not actually matter. The plain fact is that Sun Yang and his doctor were UNAWARE of the addition of trimetazidine to the banned list. Note that the medication was only added to the IN COMPETITION prohibited list. If they had been aware, they could have either got a TUE or stopped the medication. This case is a travesty of justice. It would be interesting to know WHO campaigned to add trimetazidine to the prohibited list and WHETHER this was intended.

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

      How could they be unaware – the doctor’s boss is a senior figure in anti-doping in china and the Wada code is made available to all such people. And Sun tested for it IN competition. There was no TUE available for that substance. And yes, they could have and should have stopped the medication – but they didn’t. The travesty, at the very least, is their incompetence in a world community that knows it must be competent in following rules that many thousands around the world manage to follow without incident every single day of the year. The addition of the substance was indeed ‘intended’ after a trend was noticed. WADA is quite transparent about such things – the 2014 code and notes laid out the reasons why substances had been added or moved from one category to another.

      • avatar
        rick Sterling

        Regarding your question “How could they be unaware” I think an honest review would suggest they were unaware. Was it a mistake? Absolutely. But does the punishment fit the crime? I don’t think so. Imagine if this was an Australian or Canadian swimmer. I suspect trimet was added precisely in hopes of catching athlete and his team unaware. Is this the notion of fair play now? To see it you can trip up an athlete outside the pool?