Drugs and bribes claims hit China's Olympic rehearsal

The week-long National Games - staged in the presence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge - closed on Sunday amid serious questions over China's readiness to stage a fair Olympics.

Despite the six world records that were set, the most abiding images of the games were the 1996 Olympic champion Sun Fuming conceding her judo bout in just one second (allegations of match-fixing quickly followed), and of the coach of the runner-up in the women's 1500 metres on her knees in front of the judges, begging them to disqualify the winner. The judges obliged.

In a further blow to national prestige, Sun Yingjie, China's top female distance runner, failed a drugs test and was thrown out of the games.

The scandals have highlighted how Chinese sport remains tainted by the corruption prevalent in the sporting systems of the former Soviet Union and East Germany.

China still adheres to the Soviet model, where children are selected for state-run sports schools at an early age, subjected to strict discipline, and trained by coaches who impart the unwavering message that winning is everything.

With local governments prepared to reward successful athletes and their coaches with cash, expensive cars and luxury apartments, some officials and coaches are more than willing to bend the rules.

Before the games, the most prestigious sporting event in China before the Olympics, Xiao Tan, the vice-director of China's State General Administration of Sport (CSGAS), had emphasised the significance of the championships. "It has the important task of a rehearsal for the Olympics," he said.

But the sportsmanship that the Olympic ideal embodies was conspicuous by its absence during the 12 days of competition in the city of Nanjing in Jiangsu Province.

Millions of Chinese fans watched in disbelief as the final of the women's 78kg judo competition lasted one second. Sun Fuming, the favourite, collapsed, after a hand signal from her coach, when her opponent, the PLA's Yan Sirui, had barely touched her.

Following predictable howls of protest from the spectators, CSGAS officials ordered a re-match, which Sun lost as well. However, her coach, Liu Yongfu, escaped with a warning despite admitting that the result had been determined beforehand .

The same thing happened in the men's 80kg judo event, with the PLA athlete winning while his opponent "forfeited due to injury".

Mass forfeits rendered the taekwondo and boxing competitions meaningless, while gymnasts complained that their results had been fixed before their events started.

Three wrestling judges were banned for life after taking bribes, and some athletes did not attend medal ceremonies in protest at what they thought were more dubious judging decisions.

Commentators blamed the match-fixing on the points-sharing system introduced in 1997 and designed to boost the prestige of the PLA, the Chinese armed forces, team. Under the system, provincial teams are encouraged to lend athletes to the PLA, with the incentive that if the athlete wins, then the PLA and the provincial team receive a medal.

Sun's opponent in the judo final was from her province of Liaoning but on loan to the PLA so, if she won, both teams would receive a medal instead of one team if Sun had won.

Despite the scandals that tarnished the reputations of some of China's best-known athletes, there was no doubting the determination of the Chinese to put on a show for Mr Rogge and other IOC members.

Jiangsu Province spent more than £7bn on improving sporting infrastructure and facilities and the elaborate opening ceremony ended with a flying robot lighting the torch for the games.

The reception given to Liu Xiang, the Athens 110-metre hurdles champion and the first Chinese athlete to win an Olympic track and field gold medal, showed the fervour with which the Chinese people embrace their sporting heroes.

But while no one disputed his gold medal, CSGAS officials must now clean up Chinese athletics with Beijing's Olympics less than three years away. "We will show no mercy to offenders," said Liu Peng, the minister responsible for the CSGAS.

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