Chinese media outraged about sexual abuse at top gymnast academy

There are calls for more information about the scandal, which has damaged the Hunan sports facility's integrity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 3:47am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 3:47am

The prestigious gymnastics academy that has churned out six Olympic medallists, including parallel bars master Li Xiaopeng, has found itself battling another, more damning distinction as a place where at least six young girls were sexually abused.

Revelations that the director and deputy director of the Hunan Gymnastics School had been arrested on suspicion of repeatedly molesting children entrusted to their care have been received with shock and outrage in the mainland media.

The media have asked how such an honoured institution could bury its sins so deeply.

Dean Liu Zhiqiang, 48, and his deputy, Zeng Rong, 52, were arrested three months ago, but the case was not disclosed until Wednesday, when it was reported by the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post. The victims are less than 10 years old and were abused over two years.

"Because of such a pattern, it's hard to say whether the parents sent their children closer to their gold medal dreams or their nightmares," the Oriental Morning Post said in a commentary.

Known as the "cradle of gold medallists", the Changsha school accepts the most promising gymnastics prospects from around Hunan and moulds them into world champions. Its alumni include Liu Xuan, who won gold on the balance beam in 2000, and Li, who took home four golds from Sydney and Beijing.

The pressure to excel is intense. Pupils live at the school and are only infrequently allowed to visit their parents.

The Oriental Morning Post faulted the closed training system for exposing the children to potential sexual abuse by school officials. It suggested introducing rules to prohibit private contact between students and staff members without the supervision of a third party.

In addition, pupils' parents must take the initiative to inquire about their children's well-being, the paper said. If they sense any mistreatment, they should alert authorities immediately.

The website of Caijing magazine questioned the lasting damage to the school's reputation as a top-flight sports training institution and asked why so little information had been revealed since the revelations first came to light.

"No matter how dazzling the gold medal is, it should not cover the shadow of the crime," it commented.

Liu Zhiqiang and Zeng Rong, who were expected to face trial earlier this year, have not yet been charged. Prosecutors have asked investigators to gather more evidence against them.

The media urged the prosecutors to release the facts of the case in accordance with the law. Some questioned the secrecy of the investigation and demanded more details about the victims.

"What happened to them and are there only six of them or are there more victims?" Caijing asked.

Some media outlets wondered aloud whether Hunan officials have sought to keep the scandal quiet to protect the provincial gymnastic programme's reputation. They said that the victims, other students and their families deserve the truth and justice.

Caijing said a complete investigation should examine whether there were any others involved in the scandal, in a bid to contain its scope and help "pave a real sunny road to championship for the students".

Other media, such as the Wuhan Evening News, questioned whether such a crime was rooted in a general lack of education about sexual abuse on the mainland.

"Education departments and local women's federations could print sexual assault prevention materials and introduce them to schools," the newspaper said.

The paper also called for reform of the 1997 Sex Crimes Against Girls Law, which provides defendants a chance to escape more serious charges by pleading ignorance of a victim's age.