Fresh twist as swimming slaps Horton
Mack Horton's podium protest at the 2019 World Championships has become the biggest topic of discussion in the sports world over the past 24 hours and now swimming's governing body FINA has weighed in to chastise the Aussie star.
The swimmer refused to stand alongside rival Sun Yang after he edged him out to become the 400m freestyle world champion.
Horton stood with his silver medal behind the podium as Sun and bronze medallist Gabriele Detti celebrated with the young Australian also refusing to shake the hand of his Chinese rival.
Sun Yang has been tainted with doping allegations and Horton doesn't believe the new world champion should be allowed to compete - a stance that was first brought into the spotlight at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The image of Horton standing behind the podium quickly made global headlines and has led to his personal Instagram page being flooded with threats directed towards his family and longtime girlfriend.
The executive of FINA met to discuss the issue and will send Horton a warning letter, suggesting the medal ceremony was not the appropriate time for the 23-year-old to make his protest.
"The FINA Executive met today in Gwangju (KOR) to analyse the situation related with the men's 400m free victory ceremony and has decided to send a warning letter to Swimming Australia Ltd and to athlete Mack Horton (AUS)," FINA said in a statement.
"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 and therefore it is not appropriate for FINA to prejudice this hearing by commenting further."
FINA may not support Horton but plenty of others do. Fellow swimmers reportedly gave the Aussie a standing ovation after he returned to the athletes' village and Dolphins coach Jacco Verhaeren said he had no issue with the move.
Former Australian queen of the pool Susie O'Neill also came out in defence of Horton.
"I really respect Mack for what he did," O'Neill said on The Project.
"It's tough, you know? But as athletes, we really want to compete in a fair playground. And if you feel like it's not being policed well enough, then it just gets really, really frustrating for the athletes.
"So, I really commend him for coming out. I'm really passionate about clean sport. I competed in the '90s against some people who weren't clean.
"When I was an athlete, I wasn't allowed to speak out. We had to keep our mouths shut. I'm really, really passionate about clean sport, about policing the sport to make it clean. I'm all for Mack standing up for that."
Steve Price then raised the question of just how frustrating it is for athletes who know they're the best in the world but get narrowly beaten and find out their rivals had cheated.
"There's nothing worse than dedicating your whole life to an event and it being taken away from you by a drug cheat," O'Neill said.
"As athletes, you put 40 hours a week into your training. You're training for years and years.
"Then you get to an event, where you've got a one-in-four years' chance to compete, and you don't feel like it's a fair atmosphere or field, it is very, very frustrating.
"I think we should commend Mack for putting a spotlight on the sport. I'm not saying anyone is definitely taking drugs, let's police the sport and have the same rules for everyone."
Former Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority CEO Richard Ings wasn't a fan of Horton's protest and called for a hefty penalty.
O'Neill said she understood where he was coming from, but raised the big issue athletes currently have with Sun.
"Yeah, I can sort of see where Richard is coming from, and he's very well-respected in the drug-testing community," she said.
"But I think the problem that the swimmers are having with Sun Yang is that, why is he even at these World Championships?
"Why is the court case that they're going to do, why is it going to be after the World Championships? Why can't it be before the World Championships and I think that's what Mack is frustrated about."
"I really respect Mack for what he did - as athletes, we really want to compete in a fair playground" - Olympic Gold Medalist, Susie O'Neill on Mack Horton's strong stance. pic.twitter.com/4bkgxpi9RA— The Project (@theprojecttv) July 22, 2019
The rivalry between the pair in the pool will be put on ice with Horton not competing in any future events. Sun will face a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September.