Sun Yang: Why is China's star swimmer missing Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

China’s swimmer, Sun Yang.
PHOTO: Reuters

China’s triple Olympic swimming champion Sun Yang will not be in Tokyo next month to defend the 200m crown he won at the Rio 2016 Games.

Despite being handed a reduced ban (four years and three months) by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Tuesday (June 22) , the censure rules him out of the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the Asian Games next year, which will be held in his hometown of Hangzhou.

So how did we get here, to the point where one of China’s greatest Olympians and most decorated swimmers in history is left in career limbo?

Here is a timeline of the whole saga, going back to the disputed doping test in September 2018 that has now seen Sun banned twice.


Sept 4, 2018 – The doping control company IDTM claim that Sun Yang “violently resisted the inspection” with allegations of damaged vials at an out-of-competition test at his home in Hangzhou. On the night, Sun questioned the credentials of a member of the doping control team – they had been involved in another disputed test in 2017, where Sun had complained via official channels.

The swimmer also claimed one of the doping control agents was recording video and taking photos of him – the panel would later agree that this was “highly improper and extremely unprofessional” behaviour.

Later, Chinese media claimed one of the doping control team was not qualified but a classmate of another member of the team. It was confirmed that only one of the three members of the team had the correct accreditation.

Sept 19, 2018 – Sun attends a Fina hearing. The swimmer is found to have done no wrong.

Jan 3, 2019 – A Fina report rules the September 2018 doping inspection was invalid and Sun Yang therefore had not committed any violations. An independent doping panel ruled that Sun had not violated any anti-doping rules, although they did call Sun “foolish” for allowing his sample to be smashed with a hammer.

Fina stands by that decision in its report, dated January 3, 2019, which ruled that nothing taken was a “sample”, so Sun could not have breached the regulations.

Jan 27, 2019 – The Sunday Times reports that Sun faces a lifetime ban over a controversial out-of-competition test in September, 2018. The article is headlined “Olympic champion Sun Yang abuses drug testers”.

Sun Yang’s lawyer says the swimmer is considering filing a lawsuit against The Sunday Times . The Chinese Swimming Association also slams the report, calling it “fake news”.

Jan 28, 2019 – Wada expresses its anger over Fina’s decision and considers a case with the CAS.

Jan 29, 2019 – Fina releases a statement saying it is aware of The Sunday Times report.

March 13, 2019 – Wada takes their appeal to CAS.

ALSO READ: Swimmer Sun Yang handed 8-year ban by CAS for missing drug test, career likely over

July 20, 2019 – Sun’s lawyers request a rare public hearing.

July 21-28, 2019 – Sun stars at the World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, where he wins his fourth consecutive 400m free gold and another gold in the 200m free. However, the meet is marred by fellow athletes Mack Horton and Duncan Scott snubbing Sun in the medal ceremonies.

July 26, 2019 – Sun says he is “defending the rights of every athlete” and has not violated any rules.

Aug 20, 2019 – September hearing rescheduled for “personal reasons”, CAS announces.

Oct 14, 2019 – CAS confirm the hearing will take place in Montreux, Switzerland, on Nov 15, 2019.

Nov 15-16, 2019 – Sun’s hearing takes place at the Fairmont Hotel with members of the public in attendance and a live stream online. The panel says a result will be given in due course.

Feb 27, 2020 – Cas announces the results of the hearing and the court’s will be announced on February 28.

Feb 28, 2020 –  Sun is banned for eight years by CAS, effectively ending his career, after losing the hearing. This is also the date that Sun’s second ban is backdated to.

April 28, 2020 – Sun submits an appeal of the CAS verdict to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court of appeal.

Dec 24, 2020 – The Swiss Federal Tribunal overturns the CAS ban.

Jan 1, 2021 – New Wada rules come into play and it is these that allow for Sun’s original ban of eight years to be reduced at the second hearing.

April 2, 2021 – CAS announces a new hearing will take place in May and a new panel has been created to hear the case.

May 17, 2021 – CAS confirms the panel will hear Sun’s case for a second time on May 25 in private.

May 25-27, 2021 – The second hearing of the CAS takes place behind closed doors and by video link with a new panel from the original hearing of November, 2019. CAS announces the results will be released before the end of June.

June 22, 2021 –  The Court of Arbitration announces its ruling on the second hearing of Wada vs Sun Yang and Fina, banning the swimmer until May 2024.

Sept 10, 2022 – The 2022 Asian Games begin in Sun’s hometown of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

May 28, 2024 – Sun’s 51-month ban, backdated to February 28, 2020, expires, freeing him up to swim.

July 26, 2024 –  The Paris Olympics begin and the big question will be whether Sun, 33 by the time the Games open, will be there.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.