SWIMMING NEWS - China's head swim coach has hit back at world championship protests against Sun Yang over fresh allegations of doping breaches, calling them "harmful" and "prejudiced".
Zhou Jihong defended China's triple Olympic champion after a leaked FINA doping panel report alleged Sun allowed vials of blood to be smashed with a hammer after being visited by testers last year.
Australia's Mack Horton and Briton Duncan Scott both snubbed Sun on the medals podium in separate protests over the past week in Gwangju, provoking a furious reaction from the hulking Chinese star but winning support from several top swimmers.
"It is unbelievable and unacceptable that some people publicly defiled the innocence of an elite athlete based on speculation and hearsay," Zhou told Chinese media on Wednesday.
"It shows prejudice and irrationality. It is of great harm to the sport and the athlete."
Horton's decision not to stand on the podium after taking silver behind Sun in last weekend's 400m freestyle reignited their war of words.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Australian had said he had "no time for drug cheats" in reference to a three-month ban Sun had previously served for a stimulant he claimed was prescribed to treat a heart condition.
As the barbs flew, China's state-run media accused Australia of being a "second-class citizen of the West" and "white supremacy".
His silent protest after Sun retained his 400m world title at Gwangju annoyed Sun, who accused his Aussie rival of "disrespecting China".
It also brought further criticism from Chinese media, who called Horton a "clown", while trolls left death threats on his social media accounts.
An already explosive situation looked like it could spiral out of control when Scott snubbed Sun's offer of a handshake after the 200m final on Tuesday and refused to join the podium for photos.
Sun, who has been shunned by his fellow competitors in Korea, remonstrated with the Briton, wagging a finger in his face and growling: "You loser, I win!"
However, many swimmers - including Olympic champions Adam Peaty and Lilly King - have backed the stand taken by Horton and Scott against Sun.
The feuding trio subsequently received a formal warning from swimming's governing body FINA, who are looking to introduce a tough new code of conduct to prevent a repeat of this week's protests at future competitions.
Sun was cleared to compete at the world championships after escaping on a legal technicality despite the contents of the FINA doping panel report.
But the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) took a dim view of that decision and filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who are set to hear the case in September.
Zhou continued to protest Sun's innocence, insisting: "No one has the right to judge someone by rumours."