Watch out. Mack Horton is unrepentant – and we know what happened last time he felt that way: Olympic 400m freestyle gold for Australia. That was the moment at Rio 2016 that followed Horton’s stance for clean sport and against cheats.
Two seasons on – and on the cusp of a home Commonwealth Games – Horton has spoken up again for clean sport as needles and syringes found in the Athletes’ Village at the Gold Coast gathering at the weekend were being tested – for substance and DNA. The nation under the spotlight: India. The head of India’s boxing team has acknowledged that a boxer who felt ill was given an injection by a team doctor, who, in failing to clear away the syringes broke Games needle-free guidelines.
A cricket ball-tampering scandal still jangling Aussie nerves and a history of coming down hard on cheats part of the sporting culture of the country, the Games hosts can be relied on to call out the first glimpse of suspected wrongdoing.
Horton emerged a hero of Rio 2016 not just because of his 400m win but the pathe he took to the top of the podium ahead of defending champion Sun Yang* and the Chinese swimmer’s doping ban. Horton said before the big clash that he had no “time or respect for drug cheats”.
Now on the cusp of the Commonwealth Games, Horton and others are waiting to hear the outcome of a find in the village that has set a tone to the start of the event on Wednesday that organisers might have preferred to do without.
No ceremony ahead of the opening one, though: Games bosses summoned Indian delegates to an official meeting over a “clear breach” of the Games’ no-needle policy. The Commonwealth Games Federation today confirmed the breach of rules after investigations into the weekend discovery of needles and syringes in the athletes’ village .
CGF chief executive David Grevemberg would not reveal the nation involved. The Games Medical Commission met Indian delegates this afternoon.
DNA samples are being tested, the outcome of which will be known by Tuesday, Games minister Kate Jones told reporters. The syringes were found inside a water bottle by a cleaner and are not in the hands of Australian anti-doping authorities. The aim of the tests is two-fold: what’s the substance – and who has their hands on it (DNA)? An Indian boxing official has suggested a team doctor handled the syringes when giving a sickly boxer an injection.
The Indian Commonwealth Games Association was summoned to a meeting with Games officials. India’s boxing high-performance director Santiago Nieva said one of his athletes felt ill and received a “vitamin substance” from a doctor. Nieva told Australia’s Seven Network:
“I’m confident that our boxers (have) not taken anything. We had one boxer who didn’t feel very well and doctor has given him an injection.”
Games Corporation chairman Peter Beattie said the situation was “very unhelpful” two days out from the Opening Ceremony.
The Commonwealth Games Federation has promised a zero tolerance approach to doping and says any athletes caught cheating will be thrown out of the event.
When asked about the weekend fine, Horton told media at the swim team press conference:
“That’s the first I’ve heard about it. We are in a bit of a bubble in the village and don’t really hear what’s going on, on the outside. But I hope it is a clean Games.”
Asked if he regretted speaking out in Rio and the controversy caused, Horton stuck to his guns:
“Not at all. I don’t think I’d change a thing. I guess I’m proud of how I handled myself in Rio. I think athletes know what they’re doing. And they know that they’re responsible for what goes in their body. So if they’re caught cheating or they are cheating, it’s completely their fault.”
Australian swimming head coach Jacco Verhaeren said the team had not heard about the syringe scandal.
“If that’s happened it’s disappointing but it’s the first time I’ve heard about it. This is concerning information, obviously, but definitely from our point of view, we’re looking at a very clean team and hopefully a very clean Games as well. But it would be naïve to think that it wouldn’t happen at all but it’s definitely not front and centre of our minds that we’re having to deal with cheaters here.”