Mack Horton and Swimming Australia have copped an official warning from the International Swimming Federation (FINA) after Horton refused to share a podium with Sun Yang at the world championships in South Korea.
As the ABC writes, Horton refused to stand on the podium with Sun Yang after the Chinese swimmer beat him in the 400m freestyle final. Instead, he stood behind the dais, making a statement about his opponent’s fittingness to compete. Horton called his rival a “drug cheat” at the 2016 Rio Olympics. While he spurned Sun, Horton gladly took shots with third place, Italian Gabriele Detti.
Sun was suspended for doping for three months back in 2014. While he was cleared by FINA to compete in the world championships this year, he is currently facing renewed doping allegations, including that he disrupted a drug test in China in September last year. If the accusations are founded, Sun could be banned from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In a statement, FINA stressed that they support “free speech”, but that the swimming world championships is not the place to “make personal statements or gestures”.
While FINA respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context.
As in all major sports organisations, our athletes and their entourages are aware of their responsibilities to respect FINA regulations and not use FINA events to make personal statements or gestures.
The matter over which Mack Horton was allegedly protesting is currently under review by CAS and therefore it is not appropriate for FINA to prejudice this hearing by commenting further.
At the time of Horton’s snub, Sun said:
Disrespecting me was okay, but disrespecting China was unfortunate.
No matter if it’s Australia or another country, you can have an opinion against me – but during the award ceremony, it’s a sacred time, when every player represents their own country.
No matter how reluctant you were, you must step on the podium.
losing your face！
losing your country’s face！
Please be a person before becoming a qualified athlete.
Learn to respect others and respect other‘s countries! Recognize the excellence of others！！！
— Candy0711 (@shiyuge0711) July 21, 2019
@_mackhorton loser，loser，loser，everytime you meet SunYang，you always lose，maybe you should give up，maybe you will be The GOAT of Loser。
— 黑桃不吃 (@gyhlwyj) July 21, 2019
— Ji Wookie (@is_Wookie) July 21, 2019
While Sun’s fans in China took to social media to attack Horton, whether on Twitter or in the comments on his Instagram, other swimmers have come out in support of his actions, reportedly cheering him when he returned to the athletes’ village.
US swimmer Lily King said: “It was pretty great to see the athletes united on his stance and supporting him as well.”
“I don’t think anyone at FINA is going to stand up for the athletes, so the athletes have to stand up for themselves.”
Another Aussie swimmer Mitch Larkin commented: “He’s not really standing alone. What he did was certainly brave and gutsy, and I have a lot of respect for him for doing that.”