Whatever happened to principle of innocent until proven guilty?

The principle that one is innocent until proven guilty is a common tenet which everybody in a democracy, from lawyer to layman, is well versed with. The United States is the great upholder of democracy in the world today. But it seems not all Americans believe in the rule of law, at least not John Leonard.

The Olympics has been set alight by the accusations levelled by Leonard at Chinese teenage swimmer Ye Shiwen that she is a drug cheat. And this comes without any shred of proof other than the long-held belief that any extraordinary feat of sporting endeavour from China must have had its birth in a test tube.

Ye, only 16, set a world record in the 400 metres individual medley, shaving five seconds from her personal best. This performance saw the doubters labelling her a cheat. Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, said history showed that every time something 'unbelievable' occurred in the sport it turned out to involve doping.

Was this the reaction Roger Bannister faced when he became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes? What did people think when a 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci became the first gymnast to record a perfect 10 at the Olympics? Did anyone think Mark Spitz's haul of seven golds in 1972 would be surpassed?

It is sadly a sign of the times when we cannot just sit back and savour a golden moment in sport without second-guessing ourselves. China has in the past been found guilty of cheating in the pool. Its swimmers were caught red-handed in 1998 at the Perth world championships after being found with human growth hormone.

The infamous Ma's Army of distance runners has now gone down in drug folklore in athletics. All these cases have built an environment where an unusual result from a Chinese athlete is instantly questioned by the Western media.


Ye was trailing American Elizabeth Beisel, the world champion, after the penultimate breaststroke leg when she turned on a devastating final two freestyle lengths - the last 50 metres in 28.93 seconds, which was quicker than Ryan Lochte did in winning the men's event. The immediate knee-jerk reaction to this was incredulity as to how a girl could swim faster than a man. There is a simple answer: Lochte was in cruise mode having already done more than enough to win the race. His overall time in the 400m individual medley was more than 20 seconds faster than Ye's.

She pushed hard in the last couple of lengths because she was trailing Beisel. This sparked off a superhuman effort. This can happen in sport, according to Ian Thorpe. The Australian, a commentator with the BBC, said: 'I dropped five seconds going from 15 to 16. This doesn't happen when you're in your 20s.'

His fellow commentator, Gary Lineker, then asked: 'Did anyone question you at the time when this happened?' It was a light-hearted comment, but this is the crux of the issue. It seems that when a Chinese athlete does something remarkable, he or she is branded as a cheat first, and then celebrated as a champion second. But when Usain Bolt lowered the men's 100 metres record four years ago was his feat questioned?

Ye has been tested pre-Olympics and also at the Games. All medal-winners have to give urine and blood samples immediately afterwards. So far, nothing untoward has happened from these tests but the Doubting Thomases say she and her coaches may have found a way to stay ahead of the game and mask the drugs.


All samples provided by athletes at these Games will be stored for eight years as anti-drug agencies try to find better ways to unearth cheats. Advancing technology will make today's efforts seem pedestrian by the 2020 Games.

Hong Kong-born entrepreneur David Tang, founder of Shanghai Tang who now lives in London, described Ye's feat as a changing of the guard in the Evening Standard..


'Maybe in the 21st century, it is the turn of China against the supreme power of America. And what is happening in sport at the Olympics is the partial indication of that,' he wrote.

'That transformation does not require microscopic analyses on how individual athletes might be brought up. Rather it is part and parcel of an entire nation like China which has cultivated an enormous sense of confidence, if only through its economic progress. So there should be fewer fears and prejudices, which breed war, but more admiration and emulation, which breed harmony.'

So in the interest of harmony, and unless Ye is proven guilty, let's drop all this talk of China cheating.