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Resentment for swimming's 'arch-villain' Sun Yang goes beyond doping history

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Gwangju, South Korea: The catchphrase for this year's FINA World Swimming Championships, proudly displayed on banners around the main venues and across the southern Korean city, is saturated with irony: "Dive into Peace".

Not withstanding the sound of fighter jets constantly roaring skywards to patrol the airspace for Russian and Chinese interlopers in this delicate part of the globe, the reality in the competition pool could hardly be more divorced from the uplifting marketing slogan.


There was a feeling at the Rio Olympic Games that the athlete revolt against doping had reached a tipping point. Swimmers Mack Horton and Lilly King, with their brash public rebukes of China's Sun Yang and Russia's Yulia Efimova, became the faces of a frustrated competing cohort that felt they must act when their governing body, in that case FINA, would not.

Three years later, that hostility has not only refused to subside but reached new levels of animosity at the World Championships. Sun, once again, has become a lightning rod of resentment but the reasons are more complex than a simple rebuke to his past doping infringement – he was banned for three months in 2014 – and the current one in which he finds himself immersed.

Sun finds himself at the apex of a suite of swirling, intersecting narratives and circumstances that all provide context to a swimming meet crackling with tension that has seen athletes like Horton, King, Adam Peaty and Duncan Scott in open revolt.

Much of the anger is directed towards FINA, a governing body which, as they say in the Australian football codes, has well and truly "lost the dressing room". Many of the sport's highest-profile athletes consider it to be inept, bloated by muddling bureaucrats, incapable of dealing with serious issues like doping and saddled with a stubborn unwillingness to evolve into a modern, dynamic sporting organisation.

"I win, you lose": Gold medalist China's Sun Yang, right, gestures to Britain's bronze medalist Duncan........

© Brisbane Times