FINA has stepped in to stop swimming protests. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
FINA has stepped in to stop swimming protests. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Swimmers will lose medals if they protest

FINA has attached an additional article to its Code of Conduct making it impossible for swimmers to stage a Mack Horton-type protest in any competition without running the risk of incurring a sanction, which could extend to being stripped of their medal.

At 9.46pm on Tuesday evening - that is, barely an hour after Scotsman Duncan Scott emulated Horton's protest of Sunday night by refusing to shake hands with Sun Yang at the medal ceremony for the 200m freestyle at the world championships in Gwangju - the FINA Bureau emailed the punitive addition to all national federation presidents and secretary generals.

Nothing indicated it would not come into immediate effect, which means that any athlete who stages a further protest at this meet, against Sun, FINA or indeed anything or anyone, could be at risk of losing their medal or being suspended or both.

Horton and Scott refused to be associated with Sun, who is accused of smashing blood samples at his home in China when visited by drug testing officials last year.

The additional Code of Conduct clause - entitled "Rules of conduct during the competition" but certain to become the "Horton Law" - reads: "The competitors shall actively participate in the full conduct of the competition including victory ceremonies and, if applicable, presentations and/or press conferences. They shall strictly avoid any offensive or improper behaviour towards the officials, the other competitors, the team members and/or the spectators during the entire conduct of the competition.

Warren Brown Cartoon for Daily telegraph Edition 23/07/2019 Swimmer Mack Horton protest against Chinese swimmer Sun Yang Drug cheat
Warren Brown Cartoon for Daily telegraph Edition 23/07/2019 Swimmer Mack Horton protest against Chinese swimmer Sun Yang Drug cheat

"Any political, religious or discriminatory statement or behaviour is strictly prohibited."

The bureau then pointedly directed member nations to those parts of the sport's constitution making it a violation to do anything to bring the sport - and/or FINA - into disrepute.

The additional clause will surely be seen by athletes as a draconian measure, although it brings FINA into line with the International Olympic Committee's rules banning protests or offensive behaviour. The Olympic changes were introduced as a result of the black power protest staged by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Games, a protest in which Australian silver medallist Peter Norman joined in, to his considerable cost.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates last year posthumously honoured Norman but admitted this week that had Horton carried out his protest at the Tokyo Olympics next year, rather than at the world swimming titles, he could have forfeited his silver medal in the 400m freestyle.

Australian team officials in Gwangju were contacted for comment regarding the new Code of Conduct clause but, perhaps fearing that even commenting on the law would be seen to be bringing FINA into disrepute, declined to discuss it. Swimming Australia chief executive Leigh Russell also declined to comment on it.

On a related matter, however, Russell was asked if the Great Britain and Chinese national federations were sent warning letters along with Scott and Sun - as Swimming Australia was when Horton staged his protest. Russell replied: "I'm sure FINA treats all its federations even-handedly."

FINA declared in its statement on Tuesday that Scott and Sun had both had a warning on "inadequate behaviour" on this occasion yet no accompanying letters to their respective national bodies was sent.

FINA, which was quick off the mark in issuing press releases alerting the media to the twin warning letters to Horton and Swimming Australia and then regarding Scott and Sun, curiously have not publicly broken the news that the "Horton Law" clause has now come into effect.

Meanwhile, two of Australia's greatest Olympians have thrown their support behind Horton.

London Olympic gold medallist Sally Pearson and swimming legend Dawn Fraser on Wednesday lauded Horton for his bravery.

"I stand behind him," Pearson said. "I salute him for having the courage and bravery to get up there and take a stand for clean sport.

"Major competitions, Olympics, world championships or Commonwealth Games, is a huge platform for us athletes to be able to communicate our beliefs and he did just that.

"Not many people would have the courage to do what he did."

Earlier, Fraser had said she didn't believe Horton should be penalised for making a stand against Yang.

"I think Mack stood his ground and I keep on saying FINA haven't done the right thing by their swimmers," she said.

"They should have never allowed Sun Yang to swim in this event because he is coming up to the court case in September."

Additional reporting: Brent Read