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Here's Why People Are Booing Chinese Swimmer Sun Yang

A controversial drug ban has come back to haunt Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, as other athletes protest his appearance at the World Championships in South Korea this week.

Sun has polarised the sporting world with his commanding performances in Gwangju, making as many headlines in the pool as out of it.

The furore kicked off when Australian Mack Horton refused to share a podium with Sun after the 400 metre freestyle final. Days later, Briton Duncan Scott followed Horton's lead and also refused to share podium with Sun, while the Chinese swimmer was also booed after a surprise win this week.

READ MORE: Mack Horton Refuses To Share Podium With Chinese Swimmer

READ MORE: Sun Blows Up After Another Podium Snub By Swimmer

A number of swimmers both past and present have openly criticised Sun and his history of doping, with many calling for the Chinese swimmer to walk away from the sport.

Sun Yang
Sun (centre) at the championships this week. Photo: Getty.

But the controversy has been simmering for a number of years, on some of the world's biggest stages, with this week's silent protests just the latest instalment in an ugly feud that goes to justice, cheating and money in sport.

So who is Sun Yang?

Yang came onto international radars at Beijing's 2008 Olympics, when aged just 16, he competed in the 400 and 1500 metre freestyle events. He had little success, placing far back in the fields, but just a year later he won 1500m bronze at a world championship meet.

In 2010, aged 18, he cleaned up at the Asian Games, winning several gold medals and suddenly setting the second-fastest 1500m time in history. At 19, he broke that world record, pinching it off Aussie Grant Hackett.

Sun wins gold in the 400m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Photo: Getty

The 2012 Olympics saw him win 400 and 1500m gold, 200m silver, and bronze as part of China's 4x200m team. His 1500m win was marred by controversy, when he accidentally dived into the pool early, but was allowed to stay in the race rather than being disqualified.

In 2013, he won several more world championship gold medals.

2014 'secret' Drug ban

Sun was banned for three months by the China Anti-Doping Agency in 2014, after testing positive to the substance trimetazidine. The substance had been added to the banned substance list four months prior.

READ MORE: Standing Ovation For Mack Horton, But China Is NOT Happy

Sun claimed he was unaware the drug had been added to the banned list, and had been using it since 2008 to treat heart palpitations.

The substance is only prohibited in-competition, and can be used by swimmers outside of competitions as long as it is out of their system by competition time.

Sun wins 800m gold at the 2015 World Championships. Photo: Getty

China was accused of covering up the ban so as to not damage the reputation of their most successful ever swimmer. He was banned between May and August 2014, but China only announced the news in November of that year.

2018 Blood Test Controversy

In September 2018, three doping officials turned up at Sun's house for a routine out-of-competition blood test.

Blood was taken by the blood collection assistant (BCA), however Sun claimed anomalies in the paperwork. He contacted his coach and lawyer, who advised him not to let the officials take the blood vials.

Only one of the officials had proper accreditation, swimming's governing body later admitted.

Sun contacted the Zhejiang Anti-Doping Centre for advice on how to dispose of the samples. Deciding he did not trust the officials, one of Sun's bodyguards smashed the vials with a hammer.

Photo: Getty

A panel from FINA investigated the incident and found Sun had "not committed an anti-doping violation".

The report was critical of the officials who had conducted the test, and said the conduct of the doping control official was "highly improper and extremely unprofessional".

The report was also "left with significant doubt whether the BCA was properly qualified to draw blood from an athlete", but called Sun "foolish" for smashing the vials.

"Staking an entire athletic career on being correct when the issue is complex and contentious is a huge and foolish gamble," it said.

While FINA has accepted these findings, the World Anti Doping Agency has not and the report is in the process of being appealed in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Why Do Other Swimmers Keep Protesting Sun?

Until the appeal is heard in the Court of Abritration for Sport, Sun is free to keep competing. If WADA's appeal is successful, it is reported Sun could face a lifetime ban from the sport.

However, many swimmers, both past and present, have taken issue with Sun being allowed to keep swimming.

Mack Horton after winning the 400m freestyle at the 2016 Olympics. Photo: Getty

Horton famously clashed with Sun at the 2016 Olympics, where the two battled for 400m gold. Horton narrowly beat Sun, after a charged lead-up where the Australian accused his rival of splashing him in a warm-up pool.

Horton said in 2016 "I don't have time or respect for drug cheats", and their 2019 world championships rivalry -- where Sun beat Horton in the pool -- has kicked things up another gear.

Australian swimmer Mitch Larkin said protests by Horton and Scott are "courageous".

"They're standing for what they believe in and that's clean sport and if we didn't believe that we wouldn't be racing here today," he said.

Sun Yang
Sun wins the 200m. Photo: Getty Images.

Sun claimed a surprise and controversial win in the world 200m race this week, when the race winner -- Lithuanian Danas Rapsys -- was disqualified for a false start, promoting the Chinese swimmer from silver to gold. World breaststroke champion Adam Peaty said he had a problem with Sun, who was booed when he sat on his lane rope and celebrated his win while a shattered Rapsys left the pool.

"He (Sun) should be asking himself now 'should I really be in this sport when people are booing me?'," he said.

"And if I was swimming (against Sun) I wouldn't even get on the podium for that matter."

With AAP.