Divers who cheat – who would believe it? Not Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo (or Chelsea’s Didier Drogba), that’s for sure. But in the Chinese case we are talking about real divers, rather than footballing ones.
The occasion was this month’s National Games, in which 22 provincial teams, five from the autonomous regions, four from the municipalities and a squad from the People’s Liberation Army were all competing for local bragging rights.
This year the Games were held in Jinan in Shandong province, under a “Harmonious China, Everybody’s Games” banner.
Unfortunately, harmony has been notably absent, following accusations that some of the events are fixed. In the leading scandal, an experienced judge (who had relinquished her role shortly before the Games began) gave an interview to Southeast Express in which she predicted four of the diving gold medal winners in advance.
Her forecast proved to be completely correct.
For good measure the whistleblower went on to tell the newspaper that she was tired of her sport’s “dark secret”: it didn’t matter how the divers actually performed, the gold-medal winners were usually pre-determined.
The implication (there is no proof) is that Zhou Jihong, the head of the national diving team, fixes the results. And in Jinan, many onlookers agreed that competitors who made obviously smaller splashes were denied victory. Spectators booed loudly in displeasure.
Zhou herself sat stony-faced through press conference questioning on the affair, keeping her thoughts largely to herself.
But deputy sports minister Xiao Tian opted for a more confrontational, expletive-laden, approach.
“You can’t say it has been effing fixed, it’s effing fake, just because you lost,” he told a shocked (but secretly delighted) news conference.
The General Administration of Sports then announced that an investigation had found the accusations to be groundless.
But they have still overshadowed other instances in which cheating has been detected and punished in Jinan (a rower, a sprinter and a pistol-shooter all tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs).
The episode has stirred China sports critics, who profess to be entirely unsurprised by the news.
Wags on internet sites have been saying that sports administrators pre-determine the ages of their female gymnasts too.
Further comments from China’s first trampoline Olympic champion, He Wenna, didn’t help much either.
She came in fifth but did not seem too surprised. “It’s a sport rated by the judges, so that’s that. I knew who would win the gold,” she told the Information Times.
Certainly, she was disappointed for her province (Fujian), but she implied that it wasn’t their turn for top spot: “It is what it is. It’s okay because we already got a gold in the Olympics. We don’t need this medal at the National Games.”
The context, according to Reuters, is that the National Games showcase the work of the provincial sports authorities. The upshot of this is that that they also (crucially) help to direct the subsidies available for state-funded athlete training programmes.
That raises the stakes, leading some to suspect that horse-trading might be going on among the teams and officials.
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