Heads of Hunan 'cradle of champions' gymnastics school charged with sex attacks on pupils

Teachers have been ousted from school whose alumni includes Olympic champions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 3:21am

The former principal and deputy head of a famed Hunan gymnastics school, whose star-studded alumni includes Olympic champions Liu Xuan and Li Xiaopeng, have been ousted after being charged with sexually assaulting young students.

This newest scandal in China’s highly efficient yet notoriously brutal state-led sports system has shocked the nations’s sports enthusiasts and embarrassed government officials.

It has also shed light on management loopholes in the much-criticised state training system that is responsible for producing some of the world’s top athletes.

Liu Zhiqiang, 48, was the head of the state-run Hunan gymnastics school that trains young gymnasts from ages eight to 12. He was in charge of daily training and dormitory operations. He was detained in October. Zeng Rong, 52, was the school’s deputy head and was detained in November.

At least six students reported to the police that they had been assaulted by Liu, according to Shanghai-based Dongfang Daily.

The number of Zeng’s alleged victims remains unclear.

Luo Li, a spokesperson at Changhai Kaifu police station, told the South China Morning Post in a phone interview on Wednesday that both Liu and Zeng had been formally arrested in December and charged with “molesting young children”.

Luo denied that other staff in the school had been implicated in the scandal.

Hunan gymnastics school is a provincial sports institute that reports to the province’s sports authority, according to its profile.

It has produced a number of medal-winning gymnasts in the past years including several Olympic champions. The school has since been dubbed “the cradle of champions” in Chinese media reports.

As of March, 50 students aged eight to 12 were enrolled at the school, according to the Daily. Many of them came from outside Hunan province. All students live in dormitories on campus and after reaching the age of 12, some are selected and sent to the provincial team to receive professional training, according to the school.

The news of the arrest triggered heated reactions on Weibo on Wednesday. Many microbloggers wondered why the news broke months after the arrest and urged the government to pass tougher laws to punish child molesters.

Outraged readers also compared the incident with recent reports of a scandal in Xian, where a kindergarten fed prescription flu medicine to hundreds of pupils for months without the consent from their parents.