What’s the statute of limitations for a sporting injury? Sang Lan, a former gymnast, is about to put it to the test.
Back in 1998, Sang was paralysed during a vault. The accident occurred in New York at the Goodwill Games, an event then created by Ted Turner as a rival to the Olympics, but which was wound-up in 2001 due to poor TV ratings.
Sang now says she intends to sue the Games, claiming that the accident occurred due to negligence. She alleges that one of the organising staff moved a mat while she was in motion, and it was this that caused her career-ending fall.
But why has it taken so long for Sang to litigate? She says she had to wait for her coach to retire, as she didn’t want to threaten his career with the national team. Whether that excuse will hold water with an American court is debatable. Moreover, the statute of limitations for a personal injury in New York is normally three years, which Sang has obviously exceeded.
Within China itself, the merits of Sang’s legal case is garnering less discussion than other criticisms she has made. The 29 year-old has lashed out at China’s national sports body – the State General Administration of Sport – saying that it had not purchased insurance for her. But after her accident she was unable to sue the national team because it wasn’t possible (no such law existed). And according to the Wenhui Daily, she also claims that a member of the body’s gymnastics staff forced CCTV to stop reporting news of the incident – because it was likely to put “kids off becoming gymnasts”. The power of the sports body was such that she remained silent for 12 years.
As has been reported in earlier issues of WiC, the State General Administration of Sport is not always tremendously popular with the country’s athletes. In its (admittedly quite successful) attempts to win Olympic gold medals, it can resort to somewhat Stalinist training techniques – selecting children from a young age, determining what sport they are best suited to and pretty much shaping their formative years in total pursuit of gold medal glory. And having invested in their training, it takes a big share of the athletes’ winnings, expecting absolute obedience to its diktats.
In recent times, sports stars have begun to rebel (see WiC14 for the case of tennis star, Li Na). Sang’s case fits with this trend and is being portrayed in the Chinese media as another example of the tussle between the sporting authorities and the nation’s athletes (and more broadly, of the state versus the individual).
To be fair, Sang’s injury did mark a turning point for Chinese sport. Following her misfortune, athletes no longer compete without insurance, which became mandatory after 1998. When another gymnast, Wang Yan, was severely injured in 2007, she was covered by a policy from the Chinese Sports Foundation. Sang, on the other hand, has to live on Rmb2,200 per month and can no longer afford her medical expenses.
Her chances of sympathy in a US court are muddied by another factor. After her accident, the Goodwill Games’ own insurers paid out $10 million. Sang has revealed she got $50,000 in cash, with the remaining sum allocated to receiving medical treatment. The snag is the treatment can only be used in America and Sang cannot afford to travel there anymore.
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