Collective penalties to scare off dopers
Martin Zhou in Shaoxing, Zhejiang
Teammates to pay for individual offences
Mainland athletes failing dope tests ahead of the Games face harsh, unprecedented punishments - and they will affect more than just the individual involved.
Any athlete testing positive for banned substances would be kicked out of all major national competitions for life - and their entire team would miss out on the next National Games, Duan Shijie, deputy director of the General State Sports Administration, said yesterday.
'If [for example] a shot-putter from a certain province is caught doping, then the whole provincial athletics team - all track and field disciplines - would be kicked out of the National Games next year,' he said on the sidelines of the annual national swimming championships in Shaoxing, Zhejiang.
Coaches and team officials would also be held accountable and face the sack, Duan said.
The National Games are the bedrock of China's sports machine, where Olympic stars like Liu Xiang first make their mark. They are also where government sports budgets are determined.
The measures mean that Liu (pictured), the 110 metres hurdles Olympic champion and one of China's most famous sports personalities, and other members of the team at the time of the offence, could have his domestic career severely disrupted should a member of his Shanghai Athletics Team be caught doping.
Sports officials implicated in drug scandals would also be stripped of their posts and Communist Party membership - a political career-ruining disciplinary penalty that is usually reserved for corrupt government employees.
'We hope via these unprecedented harsh policies, local sports officials will further strengthen efforts to clean up their act and help uphold the Chinese sports system's credibility and image,' Duan said.
Previously under the mainland's anti-doping policy, a first-time offender was handed a two-year suspension, leaving the door open for a comeback. Repeat offenders were handed a life ban.
Those athletes who have already qualified for Beijing 2008 automatically face a life ban and will miss the Olympics if caught before or during the Games. But it is the aspiring Chinese athletes who will suffer most if one of their teammates is caught.
The next National Games is scheduled for autumn next year in Shandong province.
The new penalties come as China's recently formed Anti-Doping Centre conducts a record number of drug tests on 10,000-plus elite mainland athletes, out of which 600 will be selected for China's Olympic delegation.
'During March alone, we have carried out more than 1,200 competition doping tests, mainly targeting those hoping to compete in the Games,' said Zhao Jian, deputy director of the China Anti-Doping Centre.
In Shaoxing, swimmers and coaches are already feeling the weight of the anti-doping measures. Cai Li, who won the men's 50m freestyle at the championships, revealed he was tested three times last month.
Many swimmers said they understood the need to keep competition clean, but others said the new policies were creating a scare-mongering atmosphere which could distract from the country's preparations for the Games.