Sun Yang, a three-time Olympic champion and one of China’s most celebrated athletes, had his eight-year suspension from swimming reduced to four years on Tuesday.
The ruling means Sun, 29, will miss this summer’s Olympics, but the timing of the penalty was structured in a way that would clear him to compete at the Paris Games in three years.
Sun’s case was heard by a panel of judges at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland in May after his previous suspension, which had been heard by a different panel of arbitrators, was overturned in December.
The new penalty against Sun bars him from competition for 51 months — four years plus an additional three months that reflected an earlier doping violation in 2014. But the suspension was backdated so that it went into effect in February 2020; that means it will expire in May 2024, only weeks before the opening ceremony of the Paris Games.
Sun had initially been barred for eight years for refusing to submit blood and urine samples to doping officials, but his suspension was thrown out in December by Switzerland’s federal court. The court’s decision came after lawyers for Sun presented evidence that the chairman of the three-member panel that issued Sun’s suspension in February 2020 had made racist comments about China on social media.
The new ruling follows a pattern that has developed in recent years in which CAS, as the court is known, partially upholds previously administered penalties after an appeal. The court has in recent years reduced penalties issued to Russia for its state-sponsored doping program; those decisions will allow athletes to compete largely without obstacles in Tokyo this summer.
Sun, a six-time Olympic medalist and the first Chinese man to win a swimming gold medal at the Games, has waged a multiyear battle with the World Anti-Doping Agency to preserve his eligibility for international competition.
WADA brought a complaint against Sun to CAS in 2019 after swimming’s international governing body declined to penalize him for refusing to cooperate with three antidoping officials who had traveled to his home in China to collect blood and urine samples in September 2018.
The court, after a hearing in November 2019 that was marred by translation issues, agreed with the antidoping agency’s underlying claim that Sun had violated rules about tampering with or obstructing doping procedures.
The new ruling to reduce the penalty followed a second hearing that, unlike the first, was closed to the news media and the public.