I have never been a big sports fan. It’s just too emotional for me. Especially swimming.
Swimming is visceral and leaves nothing to the imagination. Every movement, every technique, every misstep, there are no ifs, only replays.
So when this latest row between Mack Horton and Sun Yang escalated, my anxiety levels shot through the ROOF.
It all started during a training session before the 400m fresstyle race. Depending on where you get your news from, Sun either splashed Horton as a friendly gesture to say “hello” or it was an aggressive playground “taunt“.
When asked about the incident, Horton fired the opening shot saying he ignored it because he has “no time or respect for drug cheats.” Not entirely untrue. And it was brave of Horton to call it out.
Horton reiterated it himself during a post-race conference saying he has "a problem with athletes who have tested positive and are still competing.”
He said this sitting next to Sun himself, who replied (in Mandarin) “On the competition stage, every athlete deserves to be respected, and there’s no need to use these sort of cheap tricks to affect each other.”
But it got worse.
To the Chinese, this was not just an affront on one of their athletes, but a gesture of provocation to the entire team.
Horton's critics argued that he should apologize to Sun, that he is a racist, hypocrite, disrespectful and at the very least, it goes against the spirit of the Games. It's misconduct. Xinhua gleefully reported that the IOC was looking into the incident.
The backlash against Horton says more about Australia's race relations than his actual stance against doping.
It's true. Australia does have some serious issues with race. There's not enough representation in our media, we have elected the likes of Pauline Hanson, we imprison refugees and we have a troubled and disturbing relationship with our indigenous citizens.
Watch: The Out Loud team talk all things Pauline Hanson. (Post continues...)
Horton wanted to shed light on what he thought was an affront to sportsmanship: doping and cheating.
What he did was open a pandora's box.
To the Chinese, Horton's comments are yet another example of an Australian exerting their moral superiority over a proud country. Whether he intended to or not, Horton has incensed China's rising young nationalists and they are responding with force and numbers on social media, occupying the accounts of many on the Australian swim team. Yeah, they're trolling in droves.
Any Chinese person can tell you about the casual racism that seeps into daily life in Australia. I've written about it in regards to real estate. But you'll find casual remarks in regards to parenting, schooling and most certainly, choice of profession ("you must work in IT!"). This scuffle has opened a deep wound between Australia and one of its closest and largest trading partners.
Unfortunately this has distracted the issue of what Horton was intending to highlight in the first place. Good, clean sportsmanship.
To top it all off, the Chinese swim team are now demanding an apology from Horton. "We think his inappropriate words greatly hurt the feelings between Chinese and Australian swimmers. It is proof of a lack of good manners and upbringing" according to the team manager Xu Qi.
I can't imagine under any circumstances that Horton will apologise, nor should he. A view expressed by the AOC "Mack is entitled to express his point of view."
Mack Horton, you're not a racist. But Australia? The jury is out on that one.