FINA wanted Horton’s medal over Sun protest
If swimming's international officials had their way, Mack Horton would have been stripped of his silver medal from last year's world swimming championships in South Korea when he refused to join China's Sun Yang on the podium.
The Sunday Telegraph can reveal powerful FINA executives were so incensed by the Australian's protest, they had already made up their minds to make an example of Horton before leaving their VIP seats.
FINA did not reply to The Sunday Telegraph's request for comment but highly placed sources privy to the decision confirmed the most hawkish executives were adamant the only way to prevent further demonstrations was by stripping Horton his silver medal for finishing second behind Sun in the 400m freestyle final.
However, the majority of executives were not convinced, partly because they had already seen other leading swimmers, including two dozen Australians, stand their ground against FINA by joining the rebel International Swimming League and they feared severely punishing Horton would only deepen the divide.
The Sunday Telegraph understands some FINA members were privately supportive of Horton's opposition towards Sun, who was permitted to compete at the championships despite awaiting an appeal for a second doping offence, for which he was later banned for eight years.
But they were uncomfortable with setting a precedent allowing swimmers to air their grievances during medal presentations, so agreed a watered down penalty was justified.
The key was finding a diplomatic compromise.
It's no secret FINA's executive director Cornel Marculescu is one of Sun's biggest supporters, nor any surprise the 78-year-old sprung into action the moment Horton snubbed his Chinese rival.
As revealed by The Sunday Telegraph last week, swimming officials are notoriously slow when it comes to investigating serious accusations against their own members, but lightning fast dealing with athletes. Marculescu immediately called a meeting of the executive board for the day after Horton's protest.
Cooler heads advised him to let Horton keep his medal but receive an official warning. Marculescu agreed, but with an extra sanction. When the full executive met the next day, it was announced that Swimming Australia would also be given a formal reprimand.
Unimpressed, Swimming Australia kept quiet, for reasons that became apparent a few days later.
The next night, UK swimmer Duncan Scott staged a second demonstration, provoking a furious reaction from Sun. FINA's executives were even quicker off the blocks, changing its Code of Conduct empowering executives to strip swimmers of medals for protesting at ceremonies.
FINA's hard-line response did nothing to dispel the criticism of its lack of action regarding China after The Sunday Telegraph exclusively published the confidential document revealing how Sun escaped punishment on a technicality after destroying his own blood samples with a hammer.
The conspiracy theories only intensified when news broke that Australia's Shayna Jack had failed a drugs test before the championships. FINA maintains it was not responsible for the leak.
Originally published as FINA wanted Horton's medal over Sun protest