Disgraced swimmer Sun Yang’s house of cards is crashing down around him with the Olympic champion facing a backlash from his most loyal supporters as he prepares for his desperate final appeal.
The 28-year-old last month submitted an appeal over his eight-year doping ban to Switzerland’s highest court after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) earlier this year slapped him with one of the heaviest punishments ever handed out in sport.
Unless he is successful with the appeal, Sun Yang will not be eligible for the Tokyo Games in 2021 and his career will be effectively over.
It comes following a report from the South China Morning Post that Sun Yang’s official supporter group has decided to dissolve hot on the back of more than 360,000 followers on Chinese social media site Weibo turning their backs on the controversial star and unfollowing him.
The report outlines some of Sun Yang’s 33.7 million followers have continued to follow the swimmer simply to demand he come clean and apologise to the fans that have supported him.
“You have lied to Chinese people for so many years,” one Weibo user posted on Sun Yang’s page.
He has not posted anything on his account since the CAS verdict was returned.
Sun Yang was handed his lengthy suspension in February after the World Anti-Doping Agency challenged a controversial decision by swimming’s governing body FINA to clear him of a doping offence.
The Olympic 200m freestyle champion was accused of smashing the vials containing his blood after a row with a team of FINA drug-testers at his home in September, 2018.
Sun Yang, his mother and entourage were found to have interfered with the FINA team’s efforts to get samples because they did not believe the testers were properly accredited or qualified.
His arguments during the trial and the tactics of his legal representatives have been widely criticised in the weeks that followed the damning CAS verdict.
In April, Sun Yang was dealt another blow when his bid to ignore the CAS ban and begin training with Chinese Swimming Association (CSA) teammates was overturned when the CSA was forced to cancel an invitation he’d received to train with the Chinese swimming squad ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Despite a powerful move of international opinion being brought to bear on Sun Yang’s shoulders, the swimmer has largely enjoyed widespread support from his fans in China.
His fervent followers have previously issued death threats to Aussie swimmer and Sun Yang rival Mack Horton as part of their angry reaction to the star’s “unfair” doping ban.
In a series of attacks that took a dark twist recently with revelation the Aussie star’s family has been the victims of online abuse and potential scare tactics, Sun Yang’s followers had refused to accept the situation Sun Yang finds himself in — and continued to blame Horton for the fact that the swimmer’s career is hanging by a thread.
However, that changed this month in a dramatic backflip towards the 24-year-old, who won the 400m freestyle gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Swimming World Magazine has reported Sun Yang’s official supporter group has announced its intent to dissolve.
Members of the Sun Yang Global Support Association have even offered apologies to Horton and others caught up in the storm.
Some Chinese users have been posting messages of apology on Horton’s Facebook and Instagram pages in recent days, while the fan group released a statement to also offer an official apology for the actions of some of its members towards Horton.
In a statement posted on the group’s official page on Chinese social media site Weibo, a member apologised to: “All those who have been threatened and cursed, to all the people who have been misled and deceived, and to the party and the country.
“For some time there has been a lot of criticism on the internet for Sun Yang fans, we sincerely accept that. To all those who have been forced to pay attention to fan behaviour and persecution, we sincerely apologise and decide to disband the support group.
“Under the premise of Sun Yang’s public voice causing cyber bullying, stirring up nationalism, and violent resistance to inspection, here we would like to say sorry to the Chinese people and all athletes.
“We feel guilty about not being able to guide fans effectively.”
The extraordinary backflip comes after The Weekend Australian revealed Sun’s parents had become victims of alleged intimidation and scare tactics committed by Sun Yang supporters.
Horton’s father Andrew revealed in the report last month his family home has been broken into.
He said plants at the family home had been poisoned and a “bucket load” of glass shards left in the family’s backyard pool as part of the ongoing bullying campaign.
Family members also received death threats.
The report, along with the damning findings included in the 78-page CAS verdict report, have finally turned the tide of public support against from the banned swimmer.
His final appeal in the Swiss federal court is yet to be heard.
— with AAP