The controversial 'friendship' at centre of Sun Yang scandal

Chris Young
Sports Reporter

The peak body of international swimming, FINA, has been placed under renewed pressure in the wake of the eight-year ban handed to Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.

Sun was officially sanctioned last week, after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld an appeal lodged by WADA which stemmed from a 2018 incident in which vials containing samples of the swimmer’s blood were smashed.

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The Chinese swimmer has lashed out at the verdict, vowing to fight it.

In the wake of the verdict, questions have been raised about FINA’s relationship with Sun, as well as China as a whole.

After Sun won gold in the 400m freestyle at the 2016, FINA’s executive director, Cornel Marculescu, was behind the podium waiting to congratulate the Chinese star.

Cornel Marculescu, the executive director of FINA, and Sun Yang of China attend FINA Swimming World Cup 2015 - Beijing Press Conference. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

Sun would later go in to more detail about his relationship with Marculescu, describing the FINA heavyweight as ‘like a grandfather’.

“He is a very good friend of the Chinese swim team,” he said.

“So I was very happy to see him see me win the gold.

“I hope this friendship will last.”

FINA president talked up China partnership

Eyebrows were further raised when Sun was given a unique award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Swimming Popularity in China’ at the World Aquatics Convention in 2018.

It was later revealed by a FINA spokesperson that the award had been created at the request of the China Swimming Association.

During the 2018 event, FINA president Julio Maglione discussed the importance of the organisation’s partnership with China.

Maglione paid particular attention to the commercial opportunities an athlete like Sun Yang could open up in China.

“China is a very powerful economy - in fact, the second strongest in the world - and will naturally put a lot of effort and commitment in gathering the protagonists of the aquatics, a sport in which they have been quite successful in the last years,” he said.

“The Chinese market is also a very vibrant one, so all commercial partners present in the Convention will certainly find added-value in their business opportunities when coming to China.”

Sun Yang’s medals in question

Pressure is now on FINA to come to a decision about whether or not to strip Sun Yang of the medals he won at last year’s World Championships in Korea.

In an interview published by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, FINA vice-president said the option of revoking Yang’s medals was on the table.

“I think the option will be open,” Dunn said.

“We supported the judgment of the FINA doping panel, and consequently we support the decision of the CAS.

“Really we want to ensure the WADA code is enforced as best we can in order to ensure a drug-free playing field for clean athletes.”