Dressed in Red Army uniforms and with clenched fists, vowing to strive hard in the 2016 Olympics, solemn-faced Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang and a group of athletes from the national team have attracted media attention and a barrage of online ridicule.
The photos, which made newspaper front pages and were widely circulated on the internet, show coaches and members of the Chinese national track team on Sunday at a motivational meeting for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic games in Jinggangshan, a remote mountain area in Jiangxi province and the birth place of China’s communist revolution.
Instead of holding pep talks in changing rooms before games, a practice common among coaches around the world, China’s sports administration officials prefer to hold motivational conventions, and sometimes organise trips to famous places associated with communism, to rouse athletes’ revolutionary fighting spirits ahead of major sporting events.
But this approach has fallen foul of China’s internet users who criticised Liu for participating in what is widely seen as inappropriate and pointless propaganda.
“Putting athletes in Red Army uniforms and making them vow to strive hard is a bad move. Sports events ought not to be politicised,” one online user commented.
Other internet user accused the athletes of acting as propaganda tools of the Communist Party.
“If you are vowing in the name of athletic spirit, you have my support. But if you are vowing because officials told you, then you are fooling the public,” another said.
One blogger viewed it as a joke saying, “it was in keeping with Red Army tradition –running fast”, referring to the fact that the Long March was viewed by many as a retreat.
Liu Xiang became famous after winning China’s first Olympic gold medal in a men’s track and field event for the 110-metre hurdles at the 2004 Olympics in Greece. But Liu’s outlook for the next Olympics remains sketchy given that he is still in therapy plagued by an Achilles tendon injury that prevented him from winning at the previous two Olympics.
Asked when he could rejoin the team, Liu told media that there was no schedule and that he would fly back to Shanghai on Tuesday and continue his recovery training.
The Red Army, the Chinese Communist Party’s military force that preceded the PLA, is best known for its Long March over a distance of over 10,000 kilometres during the civil war with the Kuomintang between 1934 and 1936.
The Chinese Communist Party has for decades portrayed the journey as an “epic, unprecedented, magnificent feat”, despite criticism that it was merely a prolonged military retreat. The Party views it as a means to inspire revolutionary fervour to encourage party members to overcome all conceivable hardships.