(MONTREUX, Switzerland) — Chinese Olympic champion swimmer Sun Yang defended his failure to take a doping test by testifying at a rare public hearing Friday that inspectors drawing blood and urine samples failed to have the proper identification papers.
Courtroom translation problems in both English and Chinese marred the landmark hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, frustrating Sun’s lawyers during his opening statement and cross-examination. Sun’s mother later took the stand in sometimes-combative testimony in the afternoon, admonishing lawyers, “I haven’t finished yet.”
One lawyer said he could not tell if Sun was being evasive or if it was simply a misunderstood interpretation.
The case stems from the three-time Olympic champion’s refusal to cooperate with three anti-doping officials during a random test at his home in China in September 2018.
“During inspection, I realized they don’t have any authorized papers to prove their identification,” Sun testified. A WADA expert disputed Sun’s account, saying the inspectors’ credentials were in order.
A tribunal appointed by swimming world body FINA gave Sun only a caution in January, but the World Anti-Doping Agency appealed the case to CAS. Its judges are not expected to give a verdict from Friday’s 12-hour hearing until next year and if the ruling goes against him, Sun could be banned from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The 2-meter (6-foot, 7-inch) Sun became a star in China as its first man to win an Olympic title in swimming. He won gold medals in the 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle races at the 2012 London Olympics. He added gold in the 200 at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The 27-year-old Sun also has 11 world championship titles and is a polarizing figure in the sport.
Annoyed by official secrecy surrounding Sun’s three-month ban for a positive test in 2014, one Australian rival at the 2016 Olympics in Rio called him a drug cheat.
Sun provoked more anger among rivals by winning two world titles in July while the CAS appeal was pending. Medalists from Australia and Britain refused to stand on the podium with him in Gwangju, South Korea.
The translation problems at Friday’s hearing began almost from the start, and it was unclear at times how much of the testimony and questions were understood, with both judges and lawyers expressing frustration. At one point, Sun’s London-based lawyer, Ian Meakin, apologized for asking his client leading questions, saying: “The translation was so bad.”
Richard Young, a lawyer for WADA, said the translation was so bad that “you couldn’t tell if he was monumentally evasive or couldn’t understand the questions.”
When the hearing resumed after a break, juding panel president Franco Frattini also apologized “for the poor quality of the interpretation.”
The court noted that Sun’s team selected the translators, who were replaced at a lunch break by a WADA staff member. Lawyers were told an accurate transcript of the morning sessions would later be provided to all parties.
Sun detailed how he and his entourage had doubted the qualifications of the officials conducting the doping test at his home that escalated into a confrontation. “How are you able to trust them?” said Sun, whose personal doctor had been summoned to the scene in the middle of the night.
A security guard instructed by Sun’s mother used a hammer to smash a box containing a vial of his blood during a late-night dispute after the swimmer questioned the collection team’s credentials. Sun said he was not respected by the officials, including a chaperone he said asked to take his photograph.
“This is really ridiculous,” Sun said in translated comments.
Although Sun and his entourage were criticized for their conduct, the first tribunal panel said the sample mission was void and invalid because anti-doping protocol was not followed. Technically, Sun was judged to be not properly notified of needing to give samples.
WADA has asked for a ban of between two and eight years, believing Sun voluntarily refused to submit to give samples.
“That is pretty sensational,” Young, the WADA lawyer, said of the hammer-smashing incident. “But he was nailed on a tampering violation before any of that happened.”
If WADA’s appeal is upheld, Sun risks a longer sanction that could bar him from the Tokyo Games because it would be his second offense. He served a three-month ban imposed by Chinese authorities in 2014 after testing positive for a banned stimulant.
That initial ban was quickly addressed by Sun and his legal team on Friday. He said it was a prescribed medication for a heart issue because he sometimes fainted after training.
Lawyers for WADA repeatedly asked Sun if he had learned in his long career of the serious consequences for refusing to give a sample. He repeatedly answered that the lead anti-doping official had not warned him specifically.
Sun’s anti-doping history was detailed, with 180 samples given at competitions and during training from 2012-18. A total of 60 were organized by the Sweden-based firm IDTM, which sent the collection team to Sun’s home.
CAS judge Philippe Sands pressed Sun whether IDTM staff had shown different kinds of documents of authorization on the 59 previous occasions he gave samples without problems.