Weight of selection blame falls on authorities

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Chinese women's weightlifting team suffered a major setback on July 29 when 17-year-old Zhou Jun failed her three attempts during the snatch competition in the women's 53kg division. Zhou's failure brought the curtain down on both her competition and her "accidental" Olympic trip. But what was more surprising, and indeed ironic, was that the gold medal for this event was won by Kazakhstan's Zulfiya Chinshanlo, originally from Hunan Province and known as Zhao Changling, before she switched her allegiance to the Kazakhstan team in 2008.

Zhou Jun competes on the women's 53Kg Group B weightlifting competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012.

Zhou Jun competes on the women's 53Kg Group B weightlifting competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012.

Media reports have painted China's failure in the event as a pre-destined failure due to a muddled selection system. According to strict athlete selection procedures, Zhou was not the best candidate and should not have been selected for the London Olympics. It is widely felt that her selection made her a victim of a conflict of interests.

It was reported that Zhou's path to the Olympics opened up because Hubei lifter Tian Yuan, who won the women's 48kg at the Olympic trials, was overlooked in favor of Hunan lifter Wang Mingjuan in the 48kg division. Hubei had a quota of only one place for its weightlifters, but its most promising lifter, Ji Jing, was unable to travel to the Games. Hubei was unwilling to give up its quota and, as a result, 58kg weightlifting candidate Zhou Jun opted to compete in the 53kg division.

Some have ascribed Wang's fortune to the simple concept of payback and the fact that she herself was overlooked in favor of other athletes at previous games.

One thing is clear: China's Olympic selection system, which ought to be open, fair, and just, has been seriously compromised by complex conflicts of interest, both institutional and personal.

Unquestionably, there are rules in place which govern the selection process. Ma Wenguang, director of the center of weightlifting, wrestling and judo under the State General Administration of Sports, told Xinhua News Agency that most of those athletes selected (but not Zhou Jun) were selected through the Olympic qualifiers held in Jinan and Fujian in April. Ma said that Zhou Jun was not the National Weightlifting Team's first choice, and confirmed that she was eventually chosen after the opinion of the Hubei Sports Bureau was considered.

However, Hubei Sports Bureau Chief Hu Dechun said in an interview on July 23 that Zhou's selection was based on criteria laid down by the State General Administration of Sports, adding that "we have to follow their rules."

It is not hard to see that what should have been a transparent selection system was blighted by various conflicts of interest. The established selection system should have been strictly followed and the fact that it wasn't strictly implemented will raise questions of behind-the-scenes deals and the possibility of a corrupt sports system.

No one likes losing, but defeat is a part of sport and most people can accept that. But this was no ordinary situation and the relevant institutions need to come clean to the public about what exactly happened behind the scenes in Chinese weightlifting leading up to the London Olympics.

If selection rules are fair and just and are strictly implemented, athletes, local sports institutions, media and the public will be able to accept selection decision and their consequences in sports competitions. But if selection rules are neither fair nor just, what happened with Zhou Jun's tragedy will be harmful to athletes and tarnish both the concept of sportsmanship and the Olympic spirit.

(This article was first published in Chinese and translated by Zhang Ming'ai.)

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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