Sun Yang may not be a nice guy, but neither is he a drug cheat
Chinese swimming star embroiled in doping row with rivals is simply a case of nationalism ruling the roost on international sports stage
The paradoxical thing about international sports like the Olympics is that it brings out the nationalists in many people. I have naturalised Canadian friends who are proud of their adopted country, but once they turn to the TV sports channels, they inevitably become Aussies, Italians, Poles and Chinese again.
For sure, international athletes are trained by state-sponsored bodies and represent their countries when they compete. But it also means we don’t see them as individuals, with their greatness and pettiness, strengths and weaknesses that are all their own.
Take the feud between China’s superstar swimmer Sun Yang, and his Australian and French rivals Mack Horton and Camille Lacourt.
Horton accused him of being “a drug cheat”, while Lacourt said Sun made him sick because “he pisses purple”, that is, testing positive for drug back in 2014.
The Chinese team has demanded an official apology but the Australians counter there is nothing to be sorry for. Netizens from those countries have been trading insults; accusations of racism fly.
The public statements of Horton and Lacourt are disgraceful and ungracious, and unworthy of great sportsmen. Swimmers are among the most tested of Olympic athletes, and no positive results have turned up against Sun so far. They were referring to something back in 2014, but even that case was problematic.
Even so, Sun has fully earned the animosity of not only his foreign rivals but even his own team by his well-known arrogance, bad poolside manners and domineering behaviour.
In additional to Horton, national coaches from Brazil, Canada and South Africa have complained about his disruptive antics against other athletes during training sessions, with one complaining he acted “like he owns the pools”.
His detractors are legion. None of it makes him guilty of doping, though, unless he tests positive.
A few months after the World Anti-Doping Agency added trimetazidine to its list of banned substances, Sun tested positive for the drug in 2014. He said it was used to treat his heart condition. By January last year, the agency downgraded the drug from being a stimulant to a metabolic modulator. It was not a case of cut-and-dried doping.
We expect great athletes to be great people who bring glory to their countries. The reality is that most suffer from the same character flaws as the rest of us.