China: Poor Reviews for Games
The many controversies that 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 Jiangsu Province in eastern
China was riddled with embarrassments blamed by some on a government-sponsored
athletic culture that
stresses glory over sport.
In China, the concept of athletic spirit is too narrow," Song Jixin, director of a regional sports academy, was quoted as saying in the China Youth Daily. "The blind pursuit of championships and titles still dominates Chinese sport."
Almost 10,000 athletes representing 46 provinces, regions
and groups, including the People's Liberation Army, took part, burdened with
demands to bring back medals in return for potentially huge rewards from provincial
authorities and local
"Competition under that kind of pressure goes against
the Olympic spirit," the state-run China Youth Daily said in a commentary.
Jiangsu Province ended up with the top spot in the medals table. More pressure and money came from central sports authorities looking to groom new talent for the 2008 Olympics.
By the end of the games, the stress had proved too much for
many athletes, who either failed to live up to expectations or resorted to breaking
the rules to do so. The leading distance runner, Sun Yingjie, last week tested
positive for a banned
steroid. Xing Huina, an Olympic medalist, was denied her gold in the 1,500 meters for elbowing an opponent, saying after the race that she had simply wanted to win.
One women's judo final was replayed after one of the competitors threw the match in less than 30 seconds, while a cycling bronze medalist accused the top two finishers of deliberately blocking her and refused to accept her prize.
"The National Games are a product of the planned economy," a sociologist, Zeng Yefu, said. "The event should have disappeared with the development of society. How many people pay attention to the games any more?"
Flagging public interest did not stop the Jiangsu government from spending at least 5.5 billion yuan, or $680 million, in building venues, including a 70,000-seat showpiece stadium. The construction bill is equal to one-third of Beijing's budget for stadiums and other facilities for the 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 said in a commentary that called the National Games "farcical."
But Liu Peng, head of China's General Administration of Sport, took a different
line. "The success of the 10th National Games shows that China has the
ability to hold a
successful Olympics," he said.