The family of Australian swimmer Mack Horton have detailed the alarming backlash they copped as a result of their son’s protests against Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.
Horton’s father Andrew said death threats became the norm, as did commonly finding shattered glass thrown into their family pool, dog faeces thrown at their house, and cadres of unidentifiable figures banging pots and pans around their home in the middle of the night.
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Sun Yang was banned for eight years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport over a controversial 2018 incident in which vials containing samples of his blood were smashed to prevent doping officials from testing them.
The Chinese star’s career has been defined by his rivalry with Horton, in the pool and out, after the 24-year-old Australian labelled him a ‘drug cheat’ at the 2016 Rio Olympics, then refused to share the podium with Sun at the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.
Horton’s public stance against Sun has prompted severe backlash from Chinese fans, with the Aussie star still the frequent target of trolls on social media.
But Horton’s protests in the name of clean sport have wrought a horrible toll on his family, who in an interview with the Weekend Australian described the years of harassment and trolling they themselves have been forced to endure.
Almost immediately after Horton’s ‘drug cheat’ comment at the 2016 Olympics, the attacks started coming.
“We’ve had so many death threats that we’ve stopped taking them seriously,” Andrew said.
Even Horton’s younger brother Chad was targeted. On the night Horton was due to swim the 1500m event in Rio after his ‘drug cheat’ comment, Andrew got a series of messages from concerned neighbours about two suspicious vans outside their house, where their youngest son was studying for his Year 12 exams.
Chad’s school also reported threats directed at Horton’s brother to the family.
“At around that time the school contacted us by SMS to say they were getting threats concerning Chad,” Andrew said.
“He was actually doing a practice exam so he was escorted out of the school and spent the rest of the Olympics at his mate’s house.”
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Horton and his family were once again targeted after the Aussie star’s refusal to share the podium with Sun at the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.
Andrew’s business was targeted, with the only method of preventing online attacks to completely deny access to the website from China.
Months of harassment followed once again, only tailing off once Sun’s eight-year sanction was handed down in February.
“It was unrelenting. Every day and night in the second half of 2019, peaking in September, easing off in February this year.”