A world swimming champion’s failure to pass a doping test, albeit a serious matter, generally does not lead to the adoption of new anti-doping rules. But when the champion is Sun Yang, matters have to be looked at in a new light.
Born in 1991, Sun Yang became the first Chinese male swimmer to win gold medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games, in the 400m and 1,500m freestyle events. Starring in advertisements and campaigns, Sun has since become notorious for both his athletic performances and his endeavors out of the pool.
On May 17th 2014, during the Chinese National Swimming Championship, Sun Yang was tested positive for stimulant trimetazidine, a substance banned by the World Anti-Doping Association. As a result, Sun was suspended by the Chinese Swimming Institution for three months. The core of the controversy, however, is not Sun’s doping per se but the manner in which the incident was handled by the Chinese authorities – the announcement of Sun’s doping was delayed for six months! In the meanwhile, he was allowed to compete in an Asian championship where he won three gold and one silver medals.
Tan Jianxiang, a sports sociology professor at South China Normal University explained that “Sun’s case caused widespread debate internationally, not just because of his violation, but the way Chinese authorities dealt with it and postponed the announcement of the punishment.” Zhao Jian, deputy director of the China Anti-Doping Agency, later blamed the agency’s “heavy workload” as the cause of the delay.
In response to this international scandal, the General Administration of Sport of China released a new set of anti-doping regulations, which went into effect as of January 1, 2015. The new regulations and related guidelines, which replaced the previous 1998 regulations, are consistent with the principles of the World Anti-Doping Code. One of the highlights of these new regulations is the imposition of potential penalties on officials, coaches and anti-doping executives who obstruct tests, interfere with evidence collection and delay processing, instead of punishing athletes alone. According to those aforementioned updated regulations, the first paragraph of the article 23, section 7, rules that: “If any anti-doping rule violation occurs, the sport authority department will emit a critical notice towards the concerned athlete management’s unit. If the circumstances happen to be serious, the liability of both the executive manager of the athlete’s management’s unit and the person in charge of the sport authority department shall be investigated.”
In the period since the regulations came into place, Chinese sports officials have been trying to balance between timely disclosure of doping violations and face saving for the country.
In January 2015, two swimmers, An Jiabao and Wang Lizhou were tested positive for clenbuterol. They were issued ‘warning penalties’, while warnings and monetary fines were also doled out to the swimmers’ respective teams. This case also shone limelight on Jiabao’s coach, the infamous Zhou Ming, who was banned for life by the world swimming governing body FINA in 1998 after he oversaw the systematic doping of the Chinese national team at the world championships in Perth, Australia.
In March 2016, CHINADA, the Chinese-Anti Doping agency, revealed six doping cases by swimmers and passed the information to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is now investigating the cases. Zhao Jian, CHINADA’s deputy director, is reported to have submitted three other doping cases in swimming since the beginning of 2016.
The new anti-doping regulations are yet to achieve their full potentials as Chinese sports officials still view the discovery of doping incidents as national scandals. In order to save face in front of their international peers, CHINADA continues to dance the delicate steps between concealing the problems and compliance with the law.
 “If any anti-doping rule violation occurs, the sport authority department will emit a critical notice towards the concerned athlete management’s unit. If the circumstances happen to be serious, the liability of both the executive manager of the athlete’s management’s unit and the person in charge of the sport authority department shall be investigated.”第七章 处分与奖励 第三十二条 发生兴奋剂违规，由体育主管部门对相关 运动员管理单位通报批评；情节严重的，还应当追究运动员 管理单位行政负责人和负有责任的主管人员的责任