‘Britain’s offshore prison on fringes of civilization’ – China ridicules Australia in Rio revenge

Australia's Mack Horton (R) poses on the podium with silver medallist China's Sun Yang (L). © Martin Bureau
Australian swimming champion Mack Horton’s unsavory comments toward Chinese rival Sun Yang have led to China’s Global Times furiously returning the blow. The paper referred to Australia’s past as “Britain’s offshore prison…on the fringes of civilization.”

Sun Yang, who is universally loved in his home country, lost the 400-meter freestyle to Australian swimmer Mack ‘The Knife’ Horton. But the Australian couldn’t take his victory in stride, and thought it necessary to blast Sun for past offenses by calling him a “drug cheat.” That was followed by Horton refusing to shake Sun's hand after beating him to the wall, and then – again – calling him a “drug cheat” at a press conference, with Sun seated right next to him.

No one knew how to react except Chinese fans, who quickly flooded Horton’s social media accounts with frantic cries for an apology and outright disbelief at Horton’s cheek. Horton did later admit his actions were aimed at throwing Sun off his game, while Sun called for good sportsmanship and asked that all athletes be respected. But the damage was done, and China’s communist paper Global Times was having none of it.

Horton was referring to Sun testing positively for what the media referred to as a performance-enhancing substance, but which Chinese media reminded was “medication for his heart problem.” According to the Times, “it contained a substance which has just been banned as a new type of stimulant,” which cost Sun a three-month suspension. It added that the World Anti-Doping Agency lifted the ban after being satisfied with the explanation in 2015.

However, Horton’s attitude had done its damage, and the Chinese paper pulled no punches when elaborating that, perhaps, Horton’s behavior is a result of coming from a country that used to be considered “Britain’s offshore prison.”

“Sung is a distinguished swimmer, and a formidable rival,” the Chinese newspaper wrote. “It is understandable that Horton might have harbored disrespect for Sun for some time. He couldn't hold in his cynical smugness after beating Sun, and the Australian media recklessly spread Horton's rude speech.”

It added that “If Horton won the competition by disrupting his rival in an immoral way, his win is disgraceful, and not in line with the spirit of the Olympics. While challenging another's morality, Horton didn't act morally.”

Then came the other part of the editorial, where the author wondered if there’s something wrong with “some Australians’ sense of collective self-esteem.”

“If it was Sun who did the same, bragging about his little tricks after the win, Chinese media would by no means encourage him by spreading his words,” the author wrote.

But the editorial would not have been complete without a slam dunk. And, according to the Times, Horton’s antics are “no big deal to us.”

And here is why: “In many serious essays written by Westerners, Australia is mentioned as a country at the fringes of civilization. In some cases, they refer to the country's early history as Britain's offshore prison. This suggests that no one should be surprised at uncivilized acts emanating from the country. We should think the same way.”

But the trouble for China did not end with the Australian gold medallist’s remarks. Chinese media also revealed that the country’s flag had been displayed incorrectly. According to CCTV, the small stars pointed upwards – instead of at the large star.

“The national flag is the symbol of a country. No mistakes are allowed!,” the news outlet wrote. It probably wishes it hadn’t now, since it was discovered the flags had actually been manufactured in China, according to the Guardian.

As for Sun, he went on to prove that Horton’s comments had no lasting effect on him, by winning the men’s 200-meter freestyle.

Horton explained his attitude to the Guardian in the following way: “The last 50m I was thinking about what I said and what would happen if he gets me here – I didn’t have a choice but to beat him.”

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