Fans of banned Chinese swimmer Sun Yang have begun to desert the former Olympic champion, with many apologising to Australian counterpart Mack Horton.
Horton and his family endured months of trolling and harassment from Chinese fans, after the Australian star labelled Sun Yang a ‘drug cheat’ in 2016 and refused to share the podium with him at the 2019 FINA World Championships.
Sun was handed an eight-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February over an incident which saw blood samples taken from Sun by anti-doping officials were destroyed.
The sanction was one of the heaviest ever handed down, and Sun quickly lodged an appeal.
While many fans initially continued to support Sun in the wake of his ban, the South China Morning Post reported one of the largest supporter groups for Sun had elected to fold amid reports of more than 360,000 users on Chinese social media platform Weibo deserting the former champion.
“You have lied to Chinese people for so many years,” one Weibo user wrote, according to the report.
Messages of apology have begun to pop up on Horton’s social media pages recently, with the SCMP report quoting a statement published by one of the administrators of the Sun Yang support group apologising for the group’s conduct.
“For some time there has been a lot of criticism on the internet for Sun Yang fans, we sincerely accept that. To all those who have been forced to pay attention to fan behaviour and persecution, we sincerely apologise and decide to disband the support group.
“Under the premise of Sun Yang’s public voice causing cyber bullying, stirring up nationalism, and violent resistance to inspection, here we would like to say sorry to the Chinese people and all athletes.
“We feel guilty about not being able to guide fans effectively.”
Sun Yang urged to rat out officials to reduce ban
Disgraced Chinese swimmer Sun Yang should come clean about the extent of his doping violations, according to a leading US anti-doping official.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart, the man who helped expose Lance Armstrong, says Sun's best chance to reduce his eight-year doping ban is to shed light on the whole saga.
Tygart says Sun's best course of action is to expose anyone who aided and abetted his doping offences.
"I would say his best opportunity to get a reduction on the eight years is not some appeal to the Swiss tribunal but to come clean with everything he knows," Tygart told The Daily Telegraph.
"This includes his conversations with doctors, the FINA representatives and really try to get to the bottom of those allegations."