October 24, 2005

China puts glory before honor at National Games

BEIJING (Reuters) - The many controversies which marred
China's National Games have raised pointed questions about
sportsmanship and athletic priorities as the country prepares
for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

From doping to thrown matches to biased judging, the
domestic "mini-Olympics" that ended on Sunday in eastern
Jiangsu province was riddled with embarrassments blamed by some
on a government-sponsored athletic culture that stresses
greater glory over love of sport.

"In China, the concept of athletic spirit is too narrow.
The blind pursuit of championships and titles still dominates
Chinese sport," Song Jixin, director of a regional sports
academy, was quoted as saying in the China Youth Daily.

Almost 10,000 athletes representing 46 provinces, regions
and groups, including the People's Liberation Army, took part
in the games, burdened with demands to bring back medals in
return for potentially huge rewards from provincial authorities
and local businesses.

"Competition under that kind of pressure goes against the
Olympic spirit," the state-run China Youth Daily said in a

The hosting Jiangsu province ended up with the highly
coveted top spot in the medals table.

More pressure and money came from central sports
authorities looking to groom new talent for the 2008 Olympics
and push established athletes to give their all.


By the end of the games, the stress had proved too much for
many athletes, who either failed to live up to sky-high
expectations or resorted to breaking the rules to do so.

Leading distance runner Sun Yingjie last week tested
positive for a banned steroid.

Olympic medallist Xing Huina was denied her gold in the
1,500m for elbowing an opponent, saying after the race that she
had simply wanted to win.

The women's 78 kg judo final had to be replayed after one
of the competitors threw the match in less than 30 seconds,
while a cycling bronze medallist accused the top two finishers
with deliberately blocking her and refused to accept her prize.

The controversies left audiences jaded and wondering
whether the National Games are worthwhile.

"The National Games are a product of the planned economy.
The event should have disappeared with the development of
society," sociologist Zeng Yefu said.

"How many people pay attention to the games any more?"

Flagging interest in the domestic sports extravaganza did
not stop the Jiangsu government spending at least 5.5 billion
yuan on building venues, including a new 70,000-seat showpiece

The construction bill is equal to one third of Beijing's
budget for stadiums and other facilities for the 2008 Olympics.

"Do not forget, the funding for the sports sector comes
from taxpayers that do not want to pay for games tainted by
scandals," the China Daily warned in a commentary that called
the National Games "farcical."

China's sports authorities appear undaunted, however,
already planning the 2009 edition of the domestic games with
preparations for 2008 in full swing.

"The success of the 10th National Games," Liu Peng, head of
China's General Administration of Sport, was quoted as saying,
"shows that China has the ability to hold a successful