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2019-01-28 11:50:08

A lawyer for Chinese Olympian Sun Yang has demanded that British newspaper The Sunday Times retract an article published over the weekend, state news agency Xinhua reported Monday. The article — which alleges that the swimmer is facing a lifetime ban from competition after clashing with anti-doping authorities last year — has rekindled flames sparked during the 2016 Rio Olympics, when an Australian rival called Sun a “drug cheat.”

Zhang Qihuai, the founder of Lanpeng Law Firm in Beijing, wrote yesterday that The Sunday Times’ “false reporting” constituted an infringement of his client’s rights to reputation and privacy. As such, Zhang wrote, the paper should delete its report — titled “Olympic champion Sun Yang abuses drug testers” — upon receipt of his letter and publish an apology within one day to mend any reputational damage to the 27-year-old athlete, whom he referred to as “the pride of a nation and its people.” Sun is the current captain of China’s national swimming team.

In Zhang’s statement, posted Sunday to his Weibo microblog, the lawyer wrote that three staff from IDTM — a Swedish anti-doping service provider — had violated protocol during an out-of-competition test conducted on Sept. 4 of last year. Specifically, Zhang accused the employees of failing to present their credentials and falsely stating in their examination report that Sun had violated UNESCO’s anti-doping convention.

Zhang’s post further asserted that on Jan. 3, FINA, the international body governing competitive swimming, declared that Sun had not violated the anti-doping convention, and that the verdict had followed a 13-hour hearing held Nov. 19, 2018, at FINA’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“Sun Yang is an excellent athlete from the People’s Republic of China. He is also a world- and Olympic-record holder who is now actively preparing for international competition. Britain’s The Sunday Times and certain people with malicious motives deliberately chose this time to report the [September] incident,” Zhang wrote. He also urged Chinese media outlets not to disseminate The Sunday Times’ article in an effort to “provide a good social and public opinion environment that would bolster competition scores for Sun Yang, Chinese swimming, and Chinese athletes at international events.”

The Chinese Swimming Association — the country’s national authority overseeing aquatic sports — issued a statement the same day as The Sunday Times’ article, accusing the paper of “not adhering to facts.” The statement cited a judgement from FINA’s anti-doping arm concluding that “the sample collection session initiated by IDTM on September 4, 2018, is invalid and void,” and that “Mr. Sun Yang did not commit an anti-doping rule violation.”

The Sunday Times had not responded to Sixth Tone’s emails by time of publication, and attempts to contact the author of the article were unsuccessful.

Sun Yang is now a household name in China after he became the first male swimmer from China ever to win an Olympic gold medal at the 2012 Games in London. But the swimmer has also courted plenty of controversy. In February 2013, he was temporarily barred from commercial activities after his coach complained that he wasn’t dedicating enough time to training. And in November the same year, Sun was caught driving a car without a license.

In December of last year, Sun wrote on Weibo that he is busy preparing for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The 2022 Asian Games, meanwhile, are scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, where Sun was born. “It has always been my dream to see the national flag raised and hear the national anthem echoing at a competition held in my hometown,” Sun said in an interview last September.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Chinese swimmer Sun Yang looks dejected after his team finished second in the men’s 4x200 meter freestyle relay at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 20, 2018. Ding Yifan/Getty Images/VCG)