It’s not Sun Yang’s fault

Views journalism analysis 1

Chinese gold medallist swimmer Sun Yang is no stranger to controversy. He has had brushes with authority after crashing a relative’s Porsche SUV into the back of a bus which he was driving without a license, he has been publicly reprimanded for his relationship with an air stewardess and in 2014 he was banned from swimming for 3 months after testing positive for trimetazedine, a banned substance for competitive swimming.

This year’s Rio Olympics put Sun Yang back into the spotlight, after Australian swimmer Mack Horton publicly called him out for doping. This trigged many responses from mainly Chinese and Australian perspectives, arguing which swimmer was in the wrong.


The article for the Global Times, Horton displays no good will in remarks over his rival by Shan Renping is from a Chinese perspective on the controversy surrounding the two rivals. The author’s claim is that Mack Horton did not deserve to win the race against Sun Yang, which he justifies by saying that the Australian swimmer did not show good sportsmanship.


The author questions Horton’s behaviour of provoking Sun before the race and supports this by appealing to facts. “Hours before the game, Horton called Sun a “drug cheat,” and in an interview after the game, he defended his accusation that Sun was a drug user. But later that day, Horton admitted that he said it on purpose to distract Sun.”

The author also blames Australian media for Sun’s loss in the 400metre race, “If Horton won the competition by disrupting his rival, then it’s the fault of the Australian media.” This is a combination evaluative presumption and non-sequitur informal fallacies. Shan Renping is saying that because Horton called Sun a “drug cheat”, the Australian media’s coverage caused him to lose the race against the Australian.

In the eighth par, the author says that the Australian media framed Mack Horton with inconsiderate questions instead of presenting Horton to show sportsmanship to his competitor. This is an example of either-or argument because there are only two options put forward by the author of what the media should have down when interviewing Horton.

Shan Renping appeals to authority in his justification of Sun Yang not intentionally doping, by claiming that the World Anti-Doping Agency accepted his explanation that the substance was used to treat his heart palpitations.The author uses evaluative language such as “unfortunately” and “careless” to reinforce that Sun’s doping was an accident.

Towards the end of the article there is an evaluative presumption as the author suggests Australians should feel embarrassed over Horton’s remarks. The author then justifies by appealing to analogy, claiming that Chinese media would not do the same if the roles were reversed.

Shan Renping ends his article by referring to essays written by Westerners that Australia is a country on the edges of civilisation, which is a poor argument because it does not provide evidence of these essays. The author also tries to use the argument that Australia started as an offshore prison for Britain. This is an example of post-hoc and evaluative presumption fallacy, as it implies that Australians are uncivilised because it was colonised by prisoners. This can also be considered a false analogy because it has no relevance to the Mack Horton and Sun Yang controversy.

The underlying warrant of the article is that people should show good sportsmanship in the Olympics. This is not explicitly stated because Shan Renping assumes his audience share this sentiment.

The Global Times is a Chinese tabloid newspaper and is affiliated with the Communist Party of China. Therefore, their views will put China in a favourable light. The article has a strong anti-Australia feel, which is interesting because it is written in English, perhaps targeted at Chinese people living overseas. The purpose of this article seems to not be to persuade the audience to side with Sun, but to voice dislike for Australian behaviour during the Olympics.

Claire Harvey’s article for the Daily Telegraph, Sun Yang should have our support and empathy – not our ridicule takes different angle. Her primary claim is used as the title of the article, which implies that her audience needs persuading on the issue. Her justification of this claim is that Sun Yang is a pawn of the Chinese Government’s desire for public glory.

In her opening par she uses ad-hoc argument to criticise Sun Yang’s appearance and character, “I know he tested positive to a banned substance. I know he splashed Mack Horton in a training pool. Apparently he’s also responsible or the census hack. He’s got bad teeth. He has one, long creepy thumbnail.”

Although this is considered a fallacy argument, the author does not use it as a legitimate justification to support her claim, but rather uses it sarcastically to highlight the nature of criticism towards Sun. In this article, Sun is portrayed as a victim of public humiliation who has been trained all his life as a pawn for the Chinese government.

Ad-hoc fallacy is used again in the fourth par to discredit Australian swimmer Mack Horton’s character. She accuses him of publicly humiliating Sun Yang when he should have been empathetic of him. She also claims that Horton overreacted to Sun splashing him in the pool.

“Horton could have been a bit less of a schoolgirl about copping what he himself describes as a friendly splash, given that he was already in a swimming pool.”

She supports her claim by quoting the swimmer directly admitting that Sun splashed him as a friendly gesture to say ‘hi.’“He splashed me to say hi and I ignored him because I don’t have time for drug cheats.”

The nature of Harvey’s article is largely a combination of evaluative and recommendatory argument, as she voices her opinions on the situation as well as suggesting to her viewers that they should not ridicule Sun, but rather support him. Similarly to the previous article, Harvey appeals to facts and authority in her justification that the Swimmer was not intentionally doping by referencing the World Anti-Doping Agency to give her justification more credibility.

“WADA was critical of China for failing to announce the ban quickly enough, it did not impose a longer ban because it accepted [Sun] was not intentionally doping. There has been no evidence Sun is lying about the heart condition.”

 The underlying warrant of the article is that the Chinese government is controlling and is only concerned with their national pride. This is explicitly stated throughout the article, which indicates that Harvey is aware that some readers may not share this sentiment.

“Sun, like every other Chinese athlete, is an employee of a regime that practices brutal repression of its own people, military intimidation of its regional neighbours and a single-minded pursuit of glory.”

This is a straw-person argument and evaluative presumption because she is attacking the Chinese government’s regime but her claim is about Sun being trained to be an elite performer. The warrant possibly reflects the author’s worldview that Western democracy is superior to Chinese communism.

It is interesting that Harvey states her warrant clearly and sometimes separates herself from the audience using personal pronoun, for example she says, “Here’s why I am not piling up on him…to me, Sun’s a phenomenally talented young man…”

The Daily Telegraph is a conservative Australian tabloid newspaper so the majority of the audience is likely to support Mack Horton over Sun Yang, so Harvey’s article that seems to favour Sun will need to persuade people otherwise.

It is likely to be a more effective argument after the initial feud between the two swimmers fizzled down so Australians can perhaps look at it with a more objective lens, however it still must be written during the Olympics because of the relevance.

Overall the piece is stimulating because it provides a different insight into the Sun Yang controversy from an Australian perspective, however there is not enough evidence to support the author’s claims of the Chinese government only caring for its national image. This makes it more of an opinion piece on the author’s distaste for the Chinese government, rather than highlighting Sun’s merits.

Applaud all athletes to spread sports spirit by Wang YiQing is written for China Daily and offers another Chinese perspective on the Sun Yang and Mack Horton controversy. Wang YiQing’s main claim is that Olympians should display sportsmanship and he justifies this by using Mack Horton as an example of unsportsmanlike behaviour.

The author uses evaluative language such as “groundless accusation” and “sensational comments” to convey his stance on the issue. He also directly quotes Chinese swimming team manager Xu Qi that Horton’s comments were a “malicious personal attack” as an appeal to authority.

The use of direct quote in this article is interesting because it is a way for the author to either emphasise his opinion or refute what he does not agree with. For example, he quotes the Australian Olympic swimming team, which defended Horton, and then counters it with another quote from the International Olympic Committee, “we support freedom of speech but…at the Olympics it’s also about respecting your rivals.” By quoting the International Olympic Committee, the author is appealing to authority by implying that they did not support Horton’s comments, which gives his argument that Horton was in the wrong more validity.

There is a tone of recommendation in the article’s 6th par. Wang YiQing argues that Horton should have approached anti-doping authority directly if he had concerns about his rivals rather than calling them out publicly as it would have led to traditional methods for drug testing. This is an appeal to precedent. The underlying warrant here is that traditional drug testing is the most effective way of dealing with substance abuse in competitive racing.

In the last three pars, the author uses an example from the 2012 Olympics of Chinese gold medallist Ye Shiwen who was questioned about her performance because of her age, even though she was proven to be clean of drugs. This justification appeals to a combination of analogy and ethics. Although Sun Yang tested positive totTrimetazidine there is evidence to suggest he was not intentionally doping, so the author compares both as victims accused for something they did not do.

By using prominent Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe’s voice, the author attempts to appeal to authority and set a precedent for other Australians. In this example, there is an underling warrant that some western people feel superior to other countries.

“Thorpe defended Ye saying some Western people tend to question the performance of athletes from other countries because of their biased attitude. Thorpe improved his timing by 5 seconds when he was just 16 but that didn’t arouse the same amount of suspicion.”

Sun Yang is portrayed as reasonable and sportsmanlike. The direct quote of Sun Yang validates his favourable character, “Every athlete deserves to be respected and there is no need to use these cheap tricks to affect each other”. However, it is important to note that the author did not include other reported incidents of Sun Yang allegedly splashing Horton to provoke him, or getting involved in a physical altercation with Brazilian swimmer Larissa Oliveira.

The article is written in English for China Daily a broadsheet newspaper published China, so perhaps it is written for Chinese Australians, or upper-class intellectual Chinese citizens. It would be most effective when the rivalry broke out in order to gain the support of Chinese Australians. The fact that the warrant is never explicitly stated indicates that Wang YiQing assumes his readers share his views that Mack Horton was not very sportsmanlike during the Rio Olympics.

In conclusion, the three articles discussed all defend Sun Yang. Shan RenPing’s article for the Global Times is perhaps the least persuasive of the three. Although some of his claims are supported with proper justification, most of the article is littered with informal fallacies and opinion.

Claire Harvey’s article for the Daily Telegraph was the most interesting to analyse because it provided an Australian perspective on Sun Yang. Although she defended him, the author attacked the Chinese government. This article did not particularly address Sun Yang’s credibility as a swimmer, but rather portrayed him as a victim of a controlling and manipulative regime that is only interested its own national pride. The final article by Wang YiQing is perhaps the most persuasive because the author presents his claims and supports them with appropriate justification and evidence. Opinion is shown through evaluative language, however it is mostly argumentative. This is likely due to the readership of the newspaper of intellectual Chinese citizens capable of reading English fluently or Chinese Australians. It portrays Sun as a respectable athlete and enforces the notion that the Olympic games are about showing sportsmanship to your rivals and other countries.

By Susan Chen


Horton displays no goodwill over his remarks over his rival by Shan RenPing

Sun Yang should have our support and empathy- not our ridicule by Claire Harvey–not-our-ridicule/news-story/84546dc2ea2e8de9131e126f11f6b9c1

Applaud all athletes to spread sports spirit by Wang YiQing