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Mack Horton and Swimming Australia face official rebuke over ‘drug cheat’ protest
Australian Olympic gold medallist Mack Horton will receive an official warning from world swimming governing body FINA after his refusal to stand on the podium with a rival he has labelled a "drug cheat".
On the opening night of the FINA swimming world championships in South Korea, Horton refused to share the podium with Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, who beat him in the 400 metres freestyle final.
During the medal presentation, the 23-year-old Victorian stood behind the dais, as Sun - who was suspended for three months for doping in 2014 - claimed the gold. Italy's Gabriele Detti picked up bronze.
In a statement, FINA said its executive group met in Gwangju to analyse the situation and decided to send a warning letter to Swimming Australia and Horton.
The statement advised "while FINA respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context.
"As in all major sports organisations, our athletes and their entourages are aware of their responsibilities to respect FINA regulations and not use FINA events to make personal statements or gestures.
"The matter over which Mack Horton was allegedly protesting is currently under review by CAS (Court of Arbitration in Sport) and therefore it is not appropriate for FINA to prejudice this hearing by commenting further."
The prospect of Horton and Sun facing each other again in the 800m freestyle final disappeared after the Australian was only the 14th fastest in today's heats, while his Chinese rival qualified in eighth spot.
Horton, speaking after the 800m freestyle heats, refused to be drawn on his decision not to stand on the podium, preferring to focus on the Australian team's performance for the remainder of the world titles.
He advised "as much as I want to protect the sport, I still need to protect the team."
Sun responded strongly to Horton's protest during the press conference that followed the 400m freestyle final.
Sun commented "disrespecting me was OK, but disrespecting China was unfortunate.
"No matter if it's Australia or another country, you can have an opinion against me — but during the award ceremony, it's a sacred time, when every player represents their own country.
"No matter how reluctant you (Horton) were, you must step on the podium."
Horton's stance against Sun, who he called a "drug cheat" at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was met with a massive response from Sun's supporters on social media.
Many of the messages left on his Instagram page have included death threats, not only towards Horton but also his family and girlfriend.
Other tweets have claimed Horton was being disrespectful to China.
Horton's decision not to stand on the podium prompted applause from his fellow swimmers when he arrived back at the athletes' village.
American swimmer Lilly King, who has previously spoken out against doping, was in the dining hall when Horton arrived back from the meet.
She said other swimmers had been waiting for the awards ceremony to "see what was going to happen".
King stated "it was pretty great to see the athletes united on his stance and supporting him as well.
"I don't think anyone at FINA is going to stand up for the athletes, so the athletes have to stand up for themselves."
However, the former head of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority used Twitter to suggest Horton "should attract a heavy penalty" from FINA.
Richard Ings tweeted "I am no fan of Sun Yang ... but he has served his suspension for a doping violation and he has been cleared by a FINA panel of refusing to provide a sample.
"Not standing on the podium with him should attract a hefty penalty."
Horton has long been critical of swimming authorities for allowing the Chinese star to compete after serving a three-month suspension in 2014 for testing positive to a banned stimulant, and last year smashing a blood vial during a dispute over the process of a random drug test.
The Australian also called out Sun ahead of last year's swimming world championships when he said there was "a rivalry between clean athletes and athletes who have tested positive".
Image: Australia's Mack Horton stands off the podium as Chinese swimmer Sun Yang and Italy's Gabriele Detti hold their medals.
5th July 2019 - Jacco Verhaeren to leave Swimming Australia after Tokyo Olympics
18th June 2019 - New International League set to transform elite swimming
14th June 2019 - Gwangju venues prepare for 2019 FINA World Championships
18th April 2019 - Swimming Australia partners to research growth and development
12th October 2018 - Mack Horton becomes School Sport Victoria Ambassador
28th March 2018 - Swimming Australia appoints Leigh Russell as new Chief Executive
20th February 2013 - Second report slams management of Australian swimming
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