Travis Tygart To FINA: ‘You Can’t Have Fox Guarding Henhouse – Hand Over Anti-Doping To Truly Independent Orgs’

Mack Horton AUS protests Sun Yang's CHN Gold Medal, 400m Freestyle Final, 18th FINA World Swimming Championships 2019, 21 July 2019, Gwanju South Korea. Pic by Delly Carr/Swimming Australia. Pic credit requested and mandatory for free editorial usage. THANK YOU.
Mack Horton protests Sun Yang's Gold Medal in the 400m free at 2019 World titles in Gwanju, South Korea - Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Travis Tygart, the head of the United States Anti-Doping Committee known as the slayer of Lance Armstrong, has called on national swimming federations to step up to the plate and confront FINA, the international federation, head on instead of letting athletes like Mack Horton and Duncan Scott take all the heat when they become embroiled in cases such as that of Sun Yang, the Chinese controversy handed an eight-year ban last Friday.

FINA’s leadership is lagging well behind other major sports federations by refusing to relinquish its control of anti-doping cases in aquatic sports instead of following the International Olympic Committee’s Agenda 2020 recommendations of handing anti-doping over to independent bodies.

Tygart wants to see pressure from the international sports community and the large number of federations that make up organisations such as FINA, makes a stand and support moves for change in the anti-doping system. He told reporter Julian Linden at the Australian Daily Telegraph:

“Let’s hope this crisis they’re under and the pressure they’re under now finally gets them to move off first base and set up their own independent integrity unit. You can’t have the fox guarding the henhouse. Sporting bodies have to let truly independent organisations handle all integrity matters, certainly with anti-doping.”

Travis Tygart

Travis Tygart Photo Courtesy: YouTube

Tygart appealed directly to organisations such as USA Swimming, Swimming Australia, Swimming Canada and British Swimming, among other federations that form the top 20 or so swimming nations in the world, to force the issue with FINA, adding:

“And what Russia has shown us and the Russian state-sponsored doping scheme has shown us is that the rogue countries, the ones run by dictators and their guards, end up dictating the rules in the Olympic movement too often. So it’s incumbent upon those countries who believe in democracy and where the rule of law actually matters for them to come together and be a counter to the bad forces in sport. ”

Tygart’s comments came on a day when Leigh Russell, the CEO of Swimming Australia, revealed that she is talking to her international counterparts at other leading swimming federations with a view to taking up “critical issues currently being raised regarding FINA and it’s systems, processes and governance, including their ability to reallocate the World Championship medals”.

Like Mack Horton and others who have spoken up against cheating in swimming, Tygart has also been subjected to death threats for his anti-drugs stand. The American told Linden today that he was full of admiration for Horton who should “never have been left to carry that enormous burden alone”. Says Tygart:

“It shouldn’t be on the shoulders of individual athletes to have to put their neck on the line to stand up for their rights. They should just be focusing on training and competing at the highest levels and trust that the system and the people that run the system have their back.”

Linden writes that “Swimming Australia has always been reluctant to stand up to FINA for fear of recrimination, receiving a formal warning from FINA after Horton’s protest last year, but Tygart hopes that the botched handling of Sun’s case will embolden federations to finally speak up.”

The stance taken by Tygart, Cate Campbell, ASCTA CEO Brendon Ward and Chair Tony Shaw, Adam Peaty, Scott, Horton, Jon Rudd at the World and European Swimming Coaches Association, among others, has long stood in stark contrast to the silence of Australian FINA Bureau members Matt Dunn when a crisis off FINA’s making is in full flow.

Today, Dunn suggests that FINA is open to getting the Gwangju gold back from Sun Yang, the Chinese controversy the international federation has stood with shoulder-to-shoulder support since he tested positive for a banned substance in 2014.

Sun’s 2014 three-month suspension – and the fact that it was never actually served and FINA did nothing to change that – stands as one of the most lenient penalties ever served in the sport, was just one of many examples where leading swimmers look on and ask why the Chinese swimmer has been treated favourably.

The creation of a bespoke award for Sun by FINA at the behest of the Chinese Swimming Association, a body now under pressure to reveal the truth about its concealment of Sun’s 2014 positive, happened despite the swimmer’s doping offence and two penalties being imposed on the swimmer’s doctor Ba Zhen. During the 2015 World Championships, director of WADA-Code-signatory FINA, Cornel Marculescu, told Germany’s ZDF television:

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

All through those events and of late, as the international federation took Sun’s side in his the latest legal case, leading to an eight-year ban, all through the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the controversy of Horton calling Sun a “cheat” on the way to defeating the defending Olympic champion over 400m freestyle, and then again. During the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju last year when Horton staged a podium protest against Sun’s presence by refusing to have his photo taken with Sun and earned the support of fellow athletes, Dunn, athlete representative at FINA, was absent from the public debate.

Matt Dunn Thinks CAS Ruling On Sun’s Medals Is ‘Open’ To Interpretation

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FINA Congress – the top table of the international federation, Matt Dunn, front row, left – Photo Courtesy: Gwangju 2019/FINA

He broke his silence on Sun and Horton today when he took a position in comments in the Sydney Morning Herald described by one senior Australian swimming source as “sitting painfully on a fence of his own making built to appease all sides but pleasing none … he’s certainly not beating his chest for clean athletes”. Said Dunn:

Said Dunn: “I’ll have to convene with the FINA executive but my personal opinion is we’ll likely have to wait until any avenue of appeal is completed. I think the option [of stripping Sun of medals] will be open.

“We supported the judgment of the FINA doping panel, and consequently we support the [opposing] decision of the CAS. Really we want to ensure the WADA code is enforced as best we can in order to ensure a drug-free playing field for clean athletes.”

Supporting the legal case of a single athlete against WADA is not what many in swimming would described as the “best” FINA could do to ensure clean sport.

As a top-table member of the international federation just instructed by the Court of Arbitration and the WADA instruction resulting not to take retrospective action, Dunn also appears to have sent a message likely to raise eyebrows at the ultimate court of sport: we may defy you.

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