Witness Harassment: How Sun Yang Fell From National Hero to Disgraced Athlete
In November 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled an eight-year ban penalty against Chinese swimmer Sun Yang over a doping controversy earlier in the year. Chinese media Beijing News hosted a video program recapping Sun’s strategies and actions in the arbitration case which led to severe consequences that would impact his swimming career.
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The show revealed more details regarding Sun Yang’s arbitration cases and recapped key elements related to this highly scrutinized hearing. It is reported that Sun Yang’s mother was in frequent contact with key witnesses in the case. The statement was confirmed by Sun Yang in the arbitration process.
Sun claimed that those attempts were committed to “gather information about this case and seek assistance from them.” Sun denied that his mother intimidated and threatened witnesses.
However, those claims were contradicted by the witness statements, as they indicated that they were contacted by members of Sun’s team. According to witnesses’ testimonies, representatives from Sun Yang’s team were “concerned for their physical and economic well-being, and for the well-being of their family members.” And they further indicated to be fearful that, if they would agree to testify in this proceeding, they would suffer significant retaliation in some form from the athlete and/or his entourage and supporters.
“The World Anti-Doping Agency has written letters to the Court of Arbitration for Sports six times, asking Sun Yang’s team not to contact case witnesses in private. And I believe that CAS also demanded Sun’s team not to do so,” said Cai Guo, a Chinese sports lawyer specialized in international sports arbitrations. “But even after the arbitration verdict was delivered, Sun Yang continued to intentionally spread the witnesses’ personal information on social media.” In addition, Sun Yang’s lawyers in China threaten to start litigations against these witnesses for perjuries. Ms. Cai further added: “It will be concerning for ordinary people, just like the witnesses in this case.”
A variety of issues were also discussed in the video shows, including Sun Yang’s past social media activities. Sun alleged that one of the World Anti-Doping Agency officials served as a construction worker, and is not qualified to complete such tests. Yet sports lawyer Cai Guo said such actions are not helpful for Sun Yang’s case. “It is irrelevant to the arbitration, other than the fact that it may change the public opinions in China. And even during the arbitration, the court acknowledged the fact that WADA officials were working on a part-time basis and these are normal practices. And their day-time jobs are irrelevant to their duties as WADA officials. They in fact are not contradictory.”
Several other actions committed by Sun Yang’s team also received criticisms from the panelists in the show. While Cai believes that having a public hearing is not in the best interest for Sun Yang, and if Sun decided to plead guilty, he would have received a shorter ban instead of the eight-year ban given to him. Former arbitrator Jeffery Benz commented that “Having been in plenty of hearings, it always tends to look like making sausages, and making sausages is not a pretty process to watch.”
Benz further argued that many other factors led to Sun’s struggle in the hearing. Issues with interpretation and the testimonies from Sun Yang’s mother were both problematic parts that delivered poor results. When ranking the performance from Sun Yang’s team in the arbitration, Ben said, “Unfortunately, I can’t go lower than a zero, but I’d have to give them a one.”
“That last statement was 15 to 20 minutes of lost opportunity and, in fact, he even turned it around. I have never seen an athlete, actually, have an arbitration go that badly for them. The panels never actually noted anything bad in the closing statements, but this one was so outrageous in terms of what he chose to do, and this just shows he has no respect for anything. He has no respect for the rules of sport, or the tribunal or anything. He just does what he wants,” said Benz, who is critical of Sun’s performance in the arbitration hearing, and specifically on his strategies for the closing remarks.
The program show from Beijing News became one of the most trending topics of the day. While most Chinese social media users were supportive of Sun and his team against the World Anti-Doping Agency, this is no longer the case. Many started to blame Sun Yang as a disgrace to the country, while others believe that Sun Yang’s mother ruined his son’s promising career. Some comments also blamed the results on Sun’s supporters and the public opinion at the time.
Sun Yang has been silent on social media since March 2 and hasn’t made any public appearances since receiving the verdict. According to reports, Sun continues his training for the Tokyo Olympics with the Chinese national swimming team.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games were postponed for one year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. This adds greater uncertainties for Sun to make any appeals to the verdict, and his likelihood to appear in the Olympics Games in 2021.