Sack FINA. After the disgrace of the Sun Yang doping case, swimming’s governing body has no authority and no credibility. It’s entire executive should be removed now, if the sport is to regain trust. It cannot move forward with the present hierarchy in charge. It is time to go.
Why now? At the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in a battle between WADA and a repeat-offending drugs cheat, FINA took the side of the cheat. Sun Yang had already been banned for the use of illegal stimulant trimetazidine when he was visited by testers in September 2018.
A row at his home ended with vials of his blood being deliberately smashed — ‘tampered with’ was CAS’s genteel description — by a Chinese team doctor, Ba Zhen, who had previously been suspended twice by WADA. Sun also refused to give a urine sample.
Chinese swimmer Sun Yang has been banned for eight years for breaching anti-doping rules
FINA’s initial punishment was a caution; it was left to WADA to appeal it, with an eight-year ban the result.
FINA could have taken a neutral stance, but instead worked against WADA, first supporting a move to prevent the participation of lead prosecutor Richard Young, then supporting a plea of inadmissibility on a filing technicality.
FINA, and Sun, lost both claims and for now the taint remains. Sun has announced he will be challenging the CAS verdict and no doubt FINA will back that, too. Why are they so soft on him?
Throughout, FINA’s indulgence of Sun has stunk. Alarm bells should have rung in 2014 when he tested positive at China’s national championships. The failure was not made public but dealt with in-house by China’s anti-doping authorities.
Their punishment? A paltry three-month ban and £500 fine, freeing Sun to compete in the Asian Games where he won three gold medals.
Then, six months later, Sun’s positive test was announced. FINA turned a blind eye to both the cheating, the weak punishment and the cover-up that followed.
Sun Yang (R) tells Briton Duncan Scott ‘you’re the loser, I’m the winner’ after their 200m duel
Is it any wonder? ‘China is a very valuable partner for FINA,’ said their president Julio Maglione at the 2017 World Aquatics Gala in Sanya, Hainan Province.
At the 2016 Olympics, Sun described FINA chief executive Cornel Marculescu as ‘a very good friend of the Chinese swim team’. Maglione is 84, Marculescu 78 — they have held their respective positions for a combined 44 years.
And so to last year’s FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, where Sun was allowed to compete despite that unpleasantness with the vials. As protests from athletes grew, FINA at last took action — against those campaigning for clean sport.
Mack Horton, the Australian who led the way by refusing to shake Sun’s hand or join him on the podium having finished second in the 400m freestyle, was said to have behaved in an ‘unacceptable’ manner by FINA.
They rushed through a rule commanding podium appearances and demanding that swimmers ‘strictly avoid any offensive or improper behaviour towards officials, other competitors, team members or spectators during the competition’. They circled their wagons around drugs cheat Sun.
Cate Campbell, a world record holder, Olympic gold medallist and team-mate of Horton, said tough questions needed to be asked of FINA’s executives. She’s right. ‘What are you still doing here?’ That would be the first one. And: ‘Why don’t you f*** off?’ That would be the second. And, yes, crude. But so is smashing tainted blood vials with a hammer. It’s a bit late to aim for a battle of wits on the moral high ground. We just need them gone.
Mack Horton (L) refused to stand on the podium with Sun at the 2019 World Championships
So how do we achieve that? And this is the difficult part, because it involves the IOC and that noted lickspittle of Russian drug cheats, president Thomas Bach.
If the IOC said swimming was out of the next Olympics unless the regime at the top of FINA changed, Maglione and Marculescu would have to stand down for the good of their sport.
If Bach announced FINA could not be trusted to deliver clean competition with that pair at the helm, it would be over.
The move from clean athletes and clean countries to preserve swimming’s Olympic status would be so strong, FINA’s executive would have no option but to resign.
That was the IOC’s threat to weightlifting in 2000: go clean or go home. For a while it worked, but the sport is under scrutiny again, threatened with expulsion in 2024 unless improvements are made. It does have impact.
The IOC have the capability to be an enormously powerful force for clean sport, if they are prepared to take that responsibility. And this is the place to start.
FINA is not fit for purpose. Sun’s legacy is that his spilled blood should at last wash swimming clean.
Eat your words, Joe
Real Madrid beat Barcelona to go top of La Liga. It wasn’t a classic Clasico, but Joe Hart among others might now note that Manchester City’s 2-1 win at the Bernabeu isn’t looking like such a missed opportunity.
Why cycling world has gone up a gear
Stephen Park, the performance director of British Cycling, has warned that Great Britain could return from this summer’s Olympics with its lowest medal haul since 2004.
‘We should temper our expectations,’ said Park, after Elinor Barker was Britain’s sole gold medallist at the Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin. ‘The days of any nation winning 10-plus medals have probably gone. That is a result of worldwide competition increasing and the difference in terms of equipment and technology decreasing.’
In other words: they’ve rumbled us. Britain’s sudden eminence at cycling was not just about a handful of brilliant individuals coming together. It was a well-honed medal-winning strategy born of the realisation that cycling provided big opportunities and small fields.
Great Britain’s Laura Kenny is helped off the track after crashing in Berlin last week
Not a lot of countries were good at it, but there were a great many medals available. And it was a technological sport, so responded to money. Invest significantly in cycling and, with the right athletes, you could reap rewards.
Now the rest of the world knows. They see how ruthlessly Team GB targets its low-hanging fruit, which is why it will spend big on modern pentathlon and skeleton but ignore basketball and volleyball.
Cycling finds its home in central Europe so it is no surprise to now see Holland, Germany, Denmark, France and Italy above Britain in the Track Cycling World Championship medal table.
Now everybody has worked out how it is done, expect everybody to start doing it.
Does anyone know the offside rule?
Everton’s disallowed goal against Manchester United on Sunday succinctly highlighted the problem with the modern offside rule. It doesn’t exist.
Football’s authorities have tampered with it to such an extent that many calls are now just a matter of opinion.
When Harry Maguire deflected a shot by Dominic Calvert-Lewin past the prone figure of Gylfi Sigurdsson and beyond David de Gea in the final minutes at Goodison Park, views were divided in a way they shouldn’t be.
He didn’t touch the ball, so he’s fine. No, he made a movement so he’s active. Yes, but the movement wasn’t towards the ball, so he can’t be. He’s in the goalkeeper’s eye-line — surely that counts? But not when the shot was made, so it doesn’t apply.
And this is a conversation between former professionals and people who are paid to report football.
Richard Keys and Andy Gray couldn’t make sexist jokes about females not knowing the offside rule any more — because nobody knows the offside rule now.
Not even the officials. Jon Moss, who was on VAR duty, was lauded by Mark Halsey in one newspaper for getting the call right. Sigurdsson was obstructing De Gea’s line of vision, he said. He even cited Law 11.
Everton were denied a late winner by VAR when Sigurdsson (centre) was deemed to be offside
Moss was also supported by Peter Walton and, almost reluctantly, by Keith Hackett who said it was offside but there was doubt because De Gea was already wrong-footed by the deflection.
Walton denounced that as irrelevant. Mark Clattenburg, meanwhile, said he would have given the goal because De Gea had a clear view of the original shot.
This is offside, remember, an issue supporters of VAR tell us is so black and white only a Luddite cannot accept lines that cancel goals by the breadth of a pinkie nail.
It’s a mess. The starting point for the rules of any sport is that they should be fair; next, they should be fathomable.
For those who have not come to rugby from schooldays, it was always a source of amusement that at any given moment some of the greatest minds in the game don’t appear to know what is going on. Football isn’t perfect, we laugh, but at least we can understand it.
And now we can’t. A goal was scored by Everton and in the immediate aftermath nobody knew for certain if it should stand. Whether the final call was right or wrong, as a matter of process that is the most colossal failure.
Germans are crazy to hound Hopp the hero
Dietmar Hopp is a software billionaire who in 2000 began financially supporting his favourite team, Hoffenheim. They were in Verbandsliga Nordbaden at the time, which is the sixth tier of German football. Actually, that’s stretching it.
There are 20 leagues separating the regional Baden league from the Bundesliga, although a team only needs to win promotion through five of them. Hopp had been on Hoffenheim’s books as a teenager and ploughed his money into a grown man’s fantasy.
Hoffenheim rose steadily, finally reaching a professional league in 2007 and the Bundesliga the year after. They have remained there since, and qualified for the Europa League and Champions League.
Hopp also gave a break to two of Europe’s brightest young coaches: Ralf Rangnick and Julian Nagelsmann. Over here he would be a hero, a Jack Walker figure making dreams come true. In Germany, he is despised.
On Saturday, Bayern Munich fans visiting Hoffenheim unfurled a banner calling him ‘son of a w****’ and their match was temporarily suspended. When the players returned they spent the last 15 minutes passing the ball between themselves, like a warm-up, in protest.
Bayern Munich fans unfurled a banner that read ‘Dietmar Hopp remains a son of a w****”
It did not effect the outcome, as Munich were leading 6-0 at the time. Yet that’s still not enough for some.
In Germany, owner investment is seen as somehow illegitimate. Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Moenchengladbach supporters have both produced banners putting Hopp in rifle crosshairs. Red Bull Leipzig are equally hated, for being born of new money. Wolfsburg, too.
And if Germany’s traditionally run and funded clubs had found a way to challenge Bayern Munich’s supremacy in recent years it might make sense.
Yet Munich are now three points clear and closing in on their eighth straight Bundesliga title. It is almost as if the rest of German football has been brainwashed into believing this is how it has to be.
Hoffenheim were a village football team who now draw average crowds of over 26,000 — more than Crystal Palace — and hold their own in one of Europe’s biggest leagues.
Hopp is a great man, whose love of football and his home town should be lauded. Instead, he is insulted and made a pariah. That’s why German football is such a hard sell beyond its borders. Who wants to watch a league in which ambition and competition are dirty words?
Glory days aren’t only for the elite
Before the Carabao Cup final, there was a great debate about Aston Villa’s priorities. Would they rather win the trophy, or stay up? Yet why does it have to be either/or?
Having lost the final, it is quite possible Villa could still go down; had they won, it would have been no barrier to survival.
Wigan lifted the FA Cup and were relegated in 2013, and the same happened to Birmingham with the League Cup in 2011 — but that fate did not befall Portsmouth in 2008, Swansea in 2013 or Middlesbrough in 2004.
And all of those teams went down eventually, because it is the nature of modern football that only a handful of elite clubs are safe. So imagine if they hadn’t taken that chance of glory — probably the best day out their fans will ever have.
Wigan went on to lift the FA Cup in 2013 before going on to get relegated to the Championship
The either/or choice seems another convenient myth perpetrated by the elite, as if success should be the preserve of a tiny few, and the rest must just battle for survival.
Trying to win a trophy will merely distract from that annual slog to the mighty pinnacle of 14th, and is therefore to be discouraged. Only the big boys can handle it.
What a crock that is. Another myth? That poor little Villa are kept in their place by the mighty wealth of Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City.
Villa have ambitious owners willing to invest to stay in the Premier League and, if done well, thrive in the future. It is not City that holds them back; it’s financial fair play.