PtG Article 24.08.2006

Young Chinese athletes in collective doping case

Chinese anti-doping officials have uncovered a case of collective doping at a sports school for young athletes in the Liaoning province. On a surprise visit to the school, officials found steroids and EPO and saw school staff inject teenage students with banned substances. The case highlights China’s special doping problem amongst junior athletes.

Associated Press quotes the official Chinese news agency Xinhua for saying that officials from China’s Olympic Committee Anti-Doping Commission visited the LiaoningAnshanAthleticsSchool earlier this month when students were preparing for a provincial competition.

The visit uncovered drugs as well as hypodermic needles in the headmaster’s office. An investigation has been ordered by China’s top sports governing body, and school staff faces criminal charges under China’s anti-doping code.

More young athletes doped than professionals

Doping amongst young athletes is a major problem in China. Last year the Beijing University of Sports Culture published a survey of 4500 student athletes in 14 cities made in the period from 2002-2004. It showed that almost five per cent of the student admitted to having taken banned drugs at least once whilst almost 12 per cent considered using them.

These rates are higher than amongst professional athletes, and therefore the State Sports Administration of China will introduce doping controls to all national junior sporting events, reported People’s Daily Online last year.

Competition for places at the best schools

China has successfully tightened its anti-doping measures amongst athletes competing internationally since a spate of doping scandals in the 1990’s, and the ChinaDopingControlCenter is certified by WADA. But at a local and regional level anti-doping work is struggling against structural factors as well.

China operates a sports school system which talented children enter at a very young age. Once admitted to the system, students must climb the hierarchy from elementary/middle school teams through high school teams, amateur teams and professional provincial-level teams to gain rewards in terms of fame and income.

“More and more school students begin to use drugs in order to earn high marks in examinations such as the college entrance exam,” said Wang Baolian from the State Sports Administration of China to People’s Daily Online last summer.

Regional competition also a cause of doping problem

In a recent conference presentation, two academics from University of Chicago point to another structural explanation for widespread doping amongst young athletes in China. Alan Leung and Dali L. Yang say that the decentralisation of Chinese sports administration during the 1980 and 1990’s has provided a fertile ground for corrupt behaviour such as doping and match-fixing.

Sports governance was devolved to local and regional authorities, and the fortunes and careers of provincial and sports officials as well as those of teams, team leaders and coaches would rise and fall with the performance of their athletes at national and city games.

“Given the high-powered incentives facing the local teams the relatively light policing of these domestic competitions for doping and other problems, the domestic competitions have been famous for various forms of corrupt behaviour including doping,” the two academics explain.

In 2004, for instance, two male provincial weightlifting teams were banned from competition for one year, and last year the Chinese Olympic Committee the male and the female weightlifting team from the Hubei province were barred from competition for a year.