China's anti-graft unit tells sports to play fair, drop gold medal fever

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s sports regulator has pledged to drop the nation’s obsession with gold medals after the ruling Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog warned of the damaging extent of match-fixing and cheating in sports.

Many Chinese have linked previous sports cheating scandals to China’s pursuit of medals at all costs and have criticized the system for putting too much pressure on athletes to succeed in its rigid, Soviet-style sports system.

China’s General Administration of Sport said the desire for gold medals has led to “a small number of athletes and coaches who will stop at nothing to achieve good results in competitions”.

“The unscrupulous, illegal and fraudulent pursuit of gold medals not only distorts the spirit of sport, but also hurts career development and national interests, the agency said in a statement issued on Monday.

“It undermines the image of sport and is contrary to its value. We must resolutely oppose this and effectively eliminate it,” it said.

The sports regulator compiled the report in response to findings made by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s anti-corruption agency, which had discovered fraud and match-fixing.

China will scrap awards to provinces whose athletes win Olympic and Asian Games gold medals, as well as the ranking of provinces and cities by golds won at National Games that are held every four years, the agency said.

Chinese sport, in particular soccer, has long been beset by corruption and match-fixing scandals. The anti-corruption drive since 2009 has jailed or punished at least nine officials, four judges, 13 footballers or coaches and 17 club workers.

President Xi Jinping, an avowed soccer fan like hundreds of millions of his compatriots, has bemoaned the corruption-blighted game in China as a national embarrassment.

Chinese swimming has also been tainted by doping scandals. Last year, news emerged that Sun Yang, China’s most successful male swimmer, had been secretly banned from swimming after he tested positive for the stimulant trimetazidine, sparking an outcry.

In recent years, national pride in sports has been tempered by concerns about the human costs of sporting glory.

During the London Olympics in 2012, Chinese bloggers expressed their disgust after media reported that the parents of Olympic diver Wu Minxia had concealed her mother’s long battle with breast cancer for fear of disturbing her training.

Editing by Paul Tait