Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships: Swimming - Day 1
Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships: Swimming - Day 1

Hey Mack, what happened to innocent until proven guilty?

In the world of doping in sport there are no winners and a long list of losers.

As sports fans, all too often our awe at an unbelievable sporting performance has been crushed by the realisation of just how unbelievable that sporting performance actually was.

In the lead up to the 2012 Olympics in London, four athletes tested positive for doping substances.

During those same London Olympics, a further 11 athletes tested positive.

Clean sport you say? Not even close.

Silver medallist Mack Horton of Australia refuses to share the podium with gold medallist Sun Yang of China during the medal ceremony for Men's 400m Freestyle Final at the FINA World Championships. Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Silver medallist Mack Horton of Australia refuses to share the podium with gold medallist Sun Yang of China during the medal ceremony for Men's 400m Freestyle Final at the FINA World Championships. Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Since the 2012 Olympics closed, samples collected during those Games have been stored for retesting as laboratory technology advances.

In excess of 120 athletes who competed in the London Olympics - athletes whose samples showed no banned substances with 2012 technology - have now retested positive for doping substances thanks to more advanced laboratory technology.

Olympics after Olympics we confront the reality that athletes will break rules to improve their performance on the highest stage of international sporting competition.

Doping truly haunts world sport.

It comes as no surprise therefore that the public, the media and, most importantly, the athletes have lost patience with anti-doping efforts.

A system designed to keep sporting competition fair all too often can let us down.

But despite the weaknesses of the anti-doping system, there must always be one foundation principle in place.

Every athlete should have a presumption of innocence unless and until an anti-doping tribunal, after considering all the evidence, rules that a doping violation has taken place.

Which brings me to the matter of Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.

Yang is a polarising figure in international sport. His prowess in the pool is equalled only by his notoriety out of the pool.

While Ian Thorpe was cleared of a doping allegation in 2007, he could not escape the public innuendo. Picture: Gregg Porteous/News Corp Australia
While Ian Thorpe was cleared of a doping allegation in 2007, he could not escape the public innuendo. Picture: Gregg Porteous/News Corp Australia

In 2014, Yang was banned for three months after testing positive for the banned stimulant trimetazidine. Yang served his ban and returned to competition.

In September 2018, Yang was involved in a highly contentious attempted drug test by FINA representatives which resulted in the testing being refused and blood samples collected being destroyed.

Refusing doping control is a most serious allegation.

If Yang should be found guilty of refusal or tampering he could face up to a lifetime ban from competition.

This matter was the subject of investigation and a FINA Doping Tribunal hearing.

In a 59-page reasoned decision, the FINA panel ruled in favour of Yang and dismissed all charges.

This case is now the subject of an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

CAS is expected to hear the case in September of this year.

Once cleared of doping charges by the FINA panel, Yang is free to compete pending the CAS appeal.

In our rush to prejudge Yang, we forget another sporting hero who faced his own serious allegations of a doping violation.

In 2007, Australian swimmer and multiple Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe faced very public allegations of possible doping.

Chairman and chief executive of ASADA Richard Ings announces that swimmer Ian Thorpe is cleared of testosterone abuse charges. Picture: News Corp Australia
Chairman and chief executive of ASADA Richard Ings announces that swimmer Ian Thorpe is cleared of testosterone abuse charges. Picture: News Corp Australia

After providing a urine sample which displayed unusual levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone, Thorpe was the subject of a major investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA).

I was Chairman and CEO of ASADA at the time.

At the end of our investigation, we ruled that Thorpe had not committed a doping violation and that he had no case to answer.

While our ASADA decision was unequivocal and not appealed by either FINA or WADA, it could not erase the innuendo of doping that Thorpe encountered through the process.

I can only imagine the Australian reaction if Thorpe, during this period of doping investigation, had been ostracised by his competitors in the same way Yang is being ostracised.

I make no conclusion as to the outcome of Yang's CAS hearing. That is a matter for CAS. But admire him or loath him, Yang, like Thorpe, also deserves the presumption of innocence until the anti-doping process is complete.

Richard Ings was chief executive of the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority from 2005 to 2010.