Sometimes mistakes are so obvious that the error has to be acknowledged immediately. This was the case last weekend after netizens mocked China’s state media for mistakenly reporting that Istanbul had won the right to host the 2020 Olympics.
“Tokyo eliminated” was Xinhua’s quick-fire verdict on the final moments before the vote was announced, showing more than a hint of East Asian schadenfreude. But any sense of misfortune was soon Xinhua’s own, as the Japanese were confirmed as winners in the bid to host the sporting extravaganza.
Cue red faces at Xinhua as it scrambled to rectify its mistake. The Changsha Evening News even had to reprint hundreds of thousands of copies after reporting Istanbul had won on its front page.
At least the faux pas took a little attention away from another error of judgement at a sporting event this month – this time at China’s National Games.
Cheating in sport is hardly unique to the Chinese but as chronicled fairly extensively in WiC, China’s sports stars seem to be particularly poor at disguising it.
Plenty of footballers have been ready to bend the rules for financial recompense, for instance, while a scandal at last year’s Olympics surrounding the the women’s badminton team was also blindingly obvious (Chinese players lost games deliberately so that they could get a better position in the next round).
But traditionally, the game of rugby likes to claim that it keeps to higher standards than others. That was until the final of the rugby sevens competition at China’s National Games earlier this month, when there was another high-profile instance of a Chinese team failing to play the game in the proper sporting spirit.
Trailing their opponents from Shandong, the Beijing women’s team suddenly opted to throw the game, standing in a defiant huddle as their opponents charged past them. From each restart, the Shandong team scored again, running in a series of uncontested tries to finish as 71-0 winners.
Perhaps we should look for the positives: at least there was no sign of match fixing behind the team’s decision not to bother with any tackling.
Instead, the action seems to have resulted from anger at earlier calls from the Spanish referee. And in a sign that the team was following orders rather than acting on its own initiative, Beijing’s head coach is said to have shouted from the sidelines: “Change the referee and then we will go on playing.”
In fact, some of the team was dismayed by the command, says Liu Jingchao, a reporter with the Chinese Business Morning News. “Most of the Beijing players wanted to continue to play,” he wrote on Sina Weibo afterwards. “Some of them even cried when the head coach decided to throw the match.”
Their tears notwithstanding, Beijing’s boss continued to complain angrily after the game, insisting that the referee was biased in favour of Shandong. But the organising committee was quick to defend the official. “We’ve come to the conclusion that the umpire’s ruling is fair and correct after our review of the match videos,” it said in a statement.
The Beijing team later made an apology to the public, saying that its behaviour was “inappropriate” and “tarnished the images of rugby and the National Games”.
The National Games is held once every four years, mirroring many of the events at the Olympics – hence the inclusion of sevens rugby, which will feature for the first time at the upcoming Brazilian Olympiad in 2016.
Much like the Olympics, the National Games are also awarded to a province as a mark of prestige. They also incur substantial cost – not just to host the event itself but also to upgrade infrastructure and build the requisite athletes’ village. The last one – held in Shandong – cost the province Rmb200 billion ($32.6 billion).
This time the Liaoning-hosted event has left the citizens of Shenyang distinctly underwhelmed and even angry. The Oriental Morning Post spoke to many locals who complained that the construction effort over the past three years was deeply inconvenient, leading to traffic jams and deteriorating air quality. Nor did Shenyang officials win too many brownie points with their bosses in Beijing, after resorting to a last-minute scramble to get much of the infrastructure ready ahead of the Games’ opening.
WiC visited the city earlier in the summer and was amazed to see the airport road still being ‘improved’. Nor did the road look like it would be finished anytime soon.
When WiC mentioned its doubts about the chances of it being ready in time, the locals repeatedly dismissed the concerns. As one put it: “It has to be finished. There is no choice. They will work round the clock to get it done. However, it will probably be done so shoddily, that it will likely collapse next March and have to be repaired all over again.”
Sure enough, it was ready.
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