Call for revamp of sports
Media across the mainland yesterday called for an overhaul of the way national sports are run.
Officials were obsessed with winning gold medals, commentators said, and intense pressure and commercial interests were to blame for pushing former Olympic champion Liu Xiang too hard, despite his injuries.
The articles followed an outpouring of sympathy and shock after Liu stumbled over the first hurdle of his preliminary heat in the Olympics 110-metre hurdles event on Tuesday, falling to the ground and clutching his lower right leg as the world gasped.
The Chinese Athletics Association said Liu had broken his right Achilles tendon and was scheduled to have surgery 'in these two days' in Britain. The head of the association, Du Zhaocai, said the operation would be performed by a British surgeon who had treated famous stars such as David Beckham, Xinhua reported.
It was the second straight Olympics in which the 2004 Athens champion failed to clear a single hurdle because of injury.
Some observers pointed to the huge burdens on athletes such as Liu, saying he was a man without freedom to decide his own fate.
Others, such as Du, director of China's Athletics Administrative Centre, were quoted by Xinhua as saying that Liu's injuries were 'an accident' and that 'nobody forced him to take part in the race'.
But many wondered why Liu even took part, given his questionable physical health.
Sports commentator Dong Lu said sports officials wanted to get as much as possible out of Liu, politically and financially, while he still had superstar status.
'He is just a chess pawn,' Dong wrote on his microblog, adding that 'the team working around Liu' got as much as they could out of him.
An analysis in the Wuhan Morning Post said Liu had been the lifeline of Team China, with huge commercial revenue coming from advertising and competition sponsorship related to him and his previous success.
Liu is endorsed by 17 brands and gets 65 per cent of the money sponsors pay. His coach gets 15 per cent, and local sports authorities the rest. His sponsors include Nike, Coca-Cola, Yili, Visa, Lenovo, Cadillac, Bank of Communications and Tsingtao Beer.
Shortly after Liu crashed, Nike put up a new advert - with a picture of Liu and a message saying Liu had dared to compete despite adversity.
'Liu has been the blood-making machine for the Chinese athletic teams since 2003,' the Wuhan Morning Post said, adding that his medical and training fees accounted for about 15 per cent of money received.
In 2007, Liu could have earned 15 million yuan for representing a product, but that dropped to 2 million yuan after the 2008 Olympics. His popularity among advertisers began to pick up again only after he won several international races last year, the Information Times said.
Most state media have tried to pacify the public by stressing the persistence of Liu as an athlete, despite his injuries, but some media were unusually cynical. Shandong's Qilu Evening News asked if Liu's failure was premeditated.
'There are many similarities between the last two Olympic Games. Is it just a coincidence? Is there another reason explaining Liu's fall?' it asked.
The Zhejiang-based Qianjiang Evening News also asked why Liu was allowed to run if he was still suffering from injuries. 'The medical, research and coaching teams all neglected their duties,' it said.