National Games must go on despite troubles, says Xiao
Xiao Tian, deputy sports minister, insists event plays key role in nurturing and developing young talent in lead-up to Olympics
The National Games must go on, a top mainland official insisted yesterday, as the curtain came down on the 12th edition of the showcase event amid a barrage of criticism.
"The National Games is a major component in the elite sports delivery system with special Chinese characteristics in nurturing potential athletes and as a build-up to the next Olympic Games in the four-year cycle," said Xiao.
"Success in sports can showcase the power of China as a nation and promote the name of Chinese sports. China is not the strongest sporting power, especially in a number of events that require a strong physique such as athletics, swimming, cycling and water sports, and the three major ball games - basketball, soccer and volleyball. The National Games have a role to play in helping these sports make progress."
He said setting up age group competitions in the three major ball games at the National Games had made a great impact on identifying young talent. "More young athletes have been able to win medals at their respective world junior championships recently and this is also because of the National Games," he said.
Xiao admitted there were some shortcomings, but they should not abolish the Games because there were problems.
"Sports are about competition and, of course, there will always be disputes," he said. "What we should do is consider how to perfect the system in the light of many reforms in the area of sports in China, so the competitions can be played under clear rules and regulations."
Although there were star turns by athletes such as Sun Yang, who clinched five gold medals in the swimming pool, and badminton world champion Lin Dan, who won his third singles title in a row, the 12-day event was overshadowed by fighting, alleged cheating and a doping case, as was revealed yesterday.
Xiao said a boxer from Yunnan province tested positive in preliminary competition. The official did not name the athlete, but it was later reported by Xinhua that he was Yang Jienan in the men's 49kg category. Yang was said to have taken Lasix, a diuretic on the banned list.
The Beijing women's rugby team came under heavy fire for their "passive play" in the last three minutes of the final against Shandong as an apparent protest at biased refereeing. The capital city eventually lost 71-0.
"Playing in front of spectators and a television audience during a live broadcast, the Beijing team did not respect the referee, the opponents and the spectators," said Xiao. "The way they performed in the match was seriously against sportsmanship and sports ethics."
Xiao said the three delegations - Yunnan, Hainan and Beijing - were not allowed to compete for the moral discipline award.
There were also other ugly scenes such as two women swimmers fighting during the 10-kilometre swim. Neither finished.
A heavyweight wrestler from Henan was bitten by his opponent from Inner Mongolia.
A Hong Kong coach who was a former athlete from the mainland, said the stakes were so high at the National Games that both officials and athletes were trying to win at all costs.
"The National Games results involve the funding allocation of a province for the next four years and if they fail to reach the target, it could mean someone loses their job," said the coach.