Star Wars: When Swimming Custodians Leave Athletes To Defend Clean Sport

Star Wars by Patrick B. Kraemer


Swimming Australia‘s website has been under attack all week, according to news reports Down Under, in the wake of Mack Horton telling Sun Yang* that he was giving none of his time nor time to “drug cheats”.

High profile Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are said to be on the rise. Swimming Australia’s site is accessible but in the background is on automatic protection mode to determine if users are genuinely trying to come and read news, profiles and access information for meets and so on.  If malice aforethought designed to overload servers is suspected, access is denied.

Imagine that. An Australian swimming website under attack from folk unknown, perhaps nutcase sitting seething in their bedrooms, or perhaps the kind of folk who watch visitors from behind the mirror in the hotel room and escort you around to set-piece situations in the sporting realm in the back of a car you cannot leave without someone on the outside opening the door for you because there are no handles on the inside, presumably because it wouldn’t do if you wandered off and opted for the ‘independent’ tour instead.

  • (see foot of this article for links to out coverage of the doping crisis)

Imagine that. A swimmer tests positive for banned substances. His nation’s swimming authority seeks to hide the case by imposing no penalty and failing to report the incident in the timeline required under reporting deadline restrictions of the WADA Code and eventually gets told by FINA “you must impose a penalty”. And so they do: a token three months is given. It will never be served, for the swimmer swam on and won three gold medals at the Asian Games two months before the details of his case started to emerge.

Sun Yang in Rio - by PBK

Sun Yang in Rio – by PBK

Imagine that. The swimmer, the Chinese Swimming Association and Dr Ba Zhen, not to mention Chinada and others, all know about the case, dated May 2014. Come September, no action has been taken and the swimmer not only races to ‘honour’ at the continental showcase but does so with Dr Ba at his side, right there on the poolside. Photos are taken to prove it. The Chinese swim authorities will later say that the Dr was not on their list of official accreditations. And yet, there he is poolside in Incheon with Sun. Dr Ba has been there throughout Sun’s career: he was a China team doctor at a home Games in Beijing and then again in London when Sun raced to two Olympic titles, over 400 and 1500m freestyle. Dr Ba, says Chinese sources, is one of several doctors that have been deciding what substances, legal or otherwise at any given point of time, might hep the swimmer cope with his workload in light of a heart condition. Triamterene is prescribed for “several years” before it was placed on WADA’s banned list but neither Chinada nor anyone else sees what… well, all other teams in the world (and all the way down to … me, and other journalists who write about such things) had seen, namely the WADA statement on its website and accompanying warnings that the substances was about to go ‘red alert’.

Imagine that: FINA get China to impose a three-month penalty and all is well … Sun – three months (though retrospective so a token at the very most, one he will feel no consequence for barring the taint to his status); Dr Ba – a year (until it is pointed out by this website that he worked with Sun during his suspension period and a second offence has been committed under the WADA Code – and a second penalty joins the first).  Things are not going well for Sun, a swimmer who spent a week in jail after he drove without a licence, his case coming to light when the Porsche he’d borrowed collided with a bus. Oops.

Imagine that: August 2015, world titles and Sun races the 400, wins; the 200, gets pipped by James Guy. He then gets embroiled in controversy when he gets a bit too alpha-male with a Brazilian woman in the arm-down pool and is the subject of official complaint. All sorted. Then he fails to show for the 1500m free final because his heart can’t take it, according to FINA. The withdrawal comes too late for Pal Joensen, of the Faroes and Denmark, to make it to the blocks and take up his rightful place as reserve. The title passes a while after Sun has kicked a locker in during a row with team officials who sought to clear the changing space of all other folk.

Cornel Marculescu, director of FINA [Photo by Patrick B, Kraemer]

Cornel Marculescu, director of FINA [Photo by Patrick B, Kraemer]

Imagine that: Cornel Marculescu, director of FINA, tells German television: “You can’t condemn the stars for a minor doping offence”.

Imagine that: in a week at the most troubled Olympics in history in terms of swimming being an arena in which teams, athletes, coaches and others feel as need to boo and jeer to get their point across when those who have fallen foul of anti-doping rules walk out for races, Marculescu is seen on the deck during finals after a medals ceremony walk up to Sun and hug him like a long lost son. The director does no such thing to other Olympic champions – and quite rightly so, for it would not be appropriate. Sun tells reporters that Marculescu is like “a grandfather” to him, “a great friend of Chinese swimming”.

Imagine that: Perth 1998 and three journalists stand before Marculescu in the entrance to the FINA offices at world titles in Western Australia. Sorry to tell you, Cornel, but we’ve just heard word that Yuan Yuan has been caught with 13 vials of HgH in her kit bag at Sydney airport … police arrests … big trouble ahead … would you like to comment?

“This is a balloon … you will bring down your own house”

Not they will bring it down, you understand. We, the media; you the clean athlete; you the complaining coach; you out there calling out the cheat and the abuser – yes, you, will bring the house down.

A fourth reporter arrives with the confirmation from Sydney Customs – Game Over. Marculescu throws his arms up in the air and disappears into the bowels of FINA office.

I report the balloon in The Times newspaper. The director will next deign to speak to this reported in 2001.

Imagine that: FINA directors sit around a table with a British PR company to contemplate a $150,000 budget for an exercise in which Michael Phelps is supposed to serve as a poster boy for FINA president Julio Maglione‘s ambitions to break his election promise and stand for a third term in the hot seat (ha! as if) beyond his 80th birthday, the gravy train for life a life-force fit to rival that of the one ring  to rule them all; a plan that spells out the ambition to “discredit” those who criticise FINA, this website included.

Imagine that. Rio 2016, Russia locked out of track and field in the wake of ruinous evidence of state involvement in doping and cover-up. Russians with an asterisk to their names locked out, then let back in to the swimming pool, their greatest saviour and defence Sun Yang*, Park Tae-hwan and the all others with that asterisk in tow. Their presence guaranteed the presence of Yuliya Efimova* and Co.

Imagine that: Boos, jeers and cat calls as Efimova walks out. It happened again in the heats and then the semis of the 200m breaststroke. In the semis, Efimova took to laughing as the only response she could find, her tears after taking silver in the 100m stirring more crocodiles than sympathy.

Imagine that: Perth 1998 and aan Aussie DJ invites folk to “get down to the Superdrome, wave your flasks in the air and show ’em ya care” in a curved ball to the Chinese visitors who imported stuff they ought not to have had with them, neither at home nor abroad. The start of the dotcom boom was a year away, there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no cyber attack.

Mack Horton of Australia - by Patrick B. Kraemer

Mack Horton of Australia – by Patrick B. Kraemer

Those things are with us now – and don’t we know it. The war of words on doping rages across the net,  roams worldwide, the words of Horton, Lilly King, Michael Phelps, Bob Bowman, German athletes galore telling IOC president Thomas Bach that he got it wrong and they feel ashamed of him – all there in a few keystrokes.

If once a picture painted a thousand words, now a short tweet can paint the picture too – and get it into a thousand heads before the next boo in the pool at Rio 2016.

Those ‘trolls’ and deep-hits on Swimming Australia are not nearly as state planned in China as the doping was in the GDR and seems to have been in Russia, according to experts.

Cyber security analyst Marco Ostini tells ABC that “it’s possibly more likely just a large amount of interested people who are expressing themselves in possibly posting comments”.

It all happened after Horton’s Instagram took such a beating that he clicked ‘shut up and sod off’, or whatever the silence button says on the school media site says. Next target: Horton’s fed, domestic, that is, not international and the home of Sun’s grandad, who may yet tell us what penalty is going to be impose don the Russians who have hid two EPO tests and on the three Chinese doping cases from January this year, the details of which have yet to be reported.

This is what happens when swimming is run by people who don’t do nearly enough to serve clean sport and clean athletes for decade after decade. This is what happens when you leave Shirley Babashoff, Sharron Davies, Maggie Kelly, Lilly King, Mack Horton, Michael Phelps and many others to defend clean sport because the custodians of their sport have done such a poor job.

There is a gathering of IOC, WADA and many more in September to sort it all out and start again. Their survival depends on it.

Making Waves - Shirley Babashoff - Santa Monica Press

Making Waves – Shirley Babashoff – Santa Monica Press

Our coverage of the doping crisis in the lead-up to the Games and in Rio:

Editorial: This is what happens when swimming is run by people who don’t do nearly enough to serve clean sport and clean athletes for decade after decade. There is a gathering of IOC, WADA and many more in September to sort it all out and start again. Their survival depends on it.


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