‘Stand up for Mack’ campaign gathers steam
SWIMMING Australia has promised to start talks with the sport's global governing body about trying to get Mack Horton the gold medal he was robbed of at last year's world championships, after being accused of "sitting on their hands".
The Australian Swimming Coaches And Teachers Association has slammed SA for not doing enough to protect Horton, who has been subjected to death threats and vile abuse on social media since his disgraced Chinese rival Sun Yang was booted out of the sport.
But SA chief executive Leigh Russell says she is planning to raise the subject of Horton's medal with FINA after Sun was given an eight-year ban but allowed to keep his prizes.
"In the coming days and weeks we will take the opportunity to talk with our international counterparts and also our athlete and coach leaders about the issues currently being raised regarding FINA and its systems, processes and governance, including their ability to reallocate the World Championship medals," Russell said.
FINA's stubborn ringleaders have already made it clear they won't be stripping Sun of the medals and prize money he won at last year's world championships in South Korea and are under no legal obligations to do so.
News Corp Australia understands that it was agreed by all parties prior to Sun's appeal hearing in Switzerland that there was no legal grounds for the medals to be taken from Sun, which is why the Court of Arbitration did not redistribute them when it found him guilty of tampering last week.
The only way Horton can get the gold medal is if FINA agrees - which history suggests they won't given their cosy relationship with China and the likelihood of a swift challenge from Sun's lawyers - but ASCTA says SA should still be exhausting every avenue they can to help Horton's cause.
"It's time to get on the front foot, make a stance for Mack, his parents and his coach and get that gold medal their son so richly deserves; but nothing, not a word," ASCTA chairman Tony Shaw said.
"Time to act Swimming Australia … stop sitting on your hands and stir the pot."
Travis Tygart, the famed American drug hunter who has brought down some of the biggest cheats in sport including Lance Armstrong, told News Corp Australia he agreed that national swimming federations needed to step up to the plate and confront FINA head on instead of letting athletes take all the heat.
Like Horton, Tygart has also been subjected to death threats for his unwavering anti-drugs stand and while he is full of admiration for the Australian, he says Horton should never have been left to carry that enormous burden alone.
"It shouldn't be on the shoulders of individual athletes to have to put their neck on the line to stand up for their rights," Tygart said.
"They should just be focusing on training and competing at the highest levels and trust that the system and the people that run the system have their back."
Swimming Australia has always been reluctant to stand up to FINA for fear of recrimination, receiving a formal warning from FINA after Horton's protest last year, but Tygart hopes that the botched handling of Sun's case will embolden federations to finally speak up.
FINA is one of the few major international sports that still refuses to allow independent bodies to hear its anti-doping cases and Tygart said it was time other countries joined the United States in trying to force change.
"Let's hope this crisis they're under and the pressure they're under now finally gets them to move off first base and set up their own independent integrity unit," he said.
"You can't have the fox guarding the henhouse. Sporting bodies have to let truly independent organisations handle all integrity matters, certainly with anti-doping.
"And what Russia has shown us, and the Russian state-sponsored doping scheme has shown us, is that the rogue countries, the ones run by dictators and their guards, end up dictating the rules in the Olympic movement too often.
"So it's incumbent upon those countries who believe in democracy and where the rule of law actually matters for them to come together and be a counter to the bad forces in sport. "