Age fabrication is widespread in Chinese sports,according to boxing world champion Ren Cancan,a hot contender for flyweight gold in the inaugural women’s tournament at the London Olympics.
Ren would know. She celebrates her birthday on a different date to the one she has long used to register at international tournaments.
Her actual birthdate,she told Reuters,is April 26,1986,making her 26 years old. Officially,however,she is 24 and was born on Jan. 26,1988.
The younger age is on her household registration papers and recorded by the International Boxing Association (AIBA),the global governing body of amateur boxing,which had her marked as a 24-year-old for the world championships in Qinhuangdao in May.
This is very common in China,especially in competition from the municipal level to the provincial level,Ren told Reuters in a phone interview.
There are less people doing so once they reach the national level.
In practice,the age discrepancy is unlikely to affect Ren’s participation at the July 28 – Aug. 12 tournament in London. Whether 24 or 26,Ren would still fall within Olympic boxers’ permitted age range of 17 to 34.
But Ren’s frank admission shines a light into the cut-throat nature of domestic competition in China and the corner-cutting by coaches and sports officials to put their athletes in the frame for titles and medals.
China has been embarrassed by several high-profile scandals involving age discrepancies in recent years.
In 2010,the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped China of the women’s team gymnastics bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics after the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) concluded one of their members,Dong Fangxiao,was younger than the required age of 16 at the Games.
The Chinese Gymnastics Association was unapologetic and slammed the decision.
The IOC also ordered a probe into the age of China’s He Kexin,the women’s team and asymmetric bars gold medallist at the Beijing Games,and several of her team mates. They were cleared two months after the Games.
While cases rarely come to light at the Olympics,age fabrication has been a more pervasive problem in China’s domestic sports,especially in junior competitions beneath the provincial level.
Medals and titles go hand in hand with funding for local schools and coaches in China’s Soviet-style sports system,and regional champions are touted proudly by local officials.
In 2009,the sports ministry in southern Guangdong province ordered tests on 15,000 youth athletes and found a fifth had misrepresented their age in order to compete against younger rivals.
The spotlight on China’s transgressions in international competitions is unfair though,according to a former Chinese Olympian,who declined to be named.
Some media exaggerated the age-faking for China’s gymnastics team,she told Reuters. It was common not only for China,but also Russia and North Korea. But not everyone changed their age.
Every state-directed sports system did things like this,because the goal is to win gold.
Ren,the daughter of poor corn farmers in Shandong province,
expects little backlash from having a false age next to her name.
The original fudging happened about eight years ago when she was a teenager training at a local sports school in her home town of Jining,and she had qualified for her maiden Olympics as an adult,fair and square,she said.
I did not expect I would come this far,and because I have never competed at the provincial level,I don’t think this had or would affect my performance now, said Ren,who clinched her first world title in 2008,and won it again in 2010 and 2012.
Li Xianzhao,Ren’s earliest boxing coach,confirmed her age had been changed on official documents but had a slightly different take of the circumstances.
Her age was changed in 2005 after she won the third place (in the national women’s boxing contest),said Li,a 38-year-old former provincial champion who spotted Ren in 2001 when she was training as a hurdler.
Because she had failed to win the national title for two years,her parents were reluctant to let her continue with training. (We) wanted her to go for the youth games.
A youth champion is a champion,anyway.
AIBA was not able to provide immediate comment on Ren’s age status,but a spokesman said sanctions for a deliberately falsified age could range from a warning to a ban,depending on the circumstances and its impact.
Li Pin,the head of boxing within China’s General Administration of Sports,said there was no problem with Ren’s age,and she would not face any sanction,but conceded local statistics were incomplete.
Women’s boxing is still a budding sport in China,and we don’t have complete statistics regarding the athletes’ backgrounds,he told Reuters by telephone.
They register their information the first time they participate in youth games,strictly based on the information on their ‘hukou’ (residence permit) and ID card.
The national team just assembles these athletes in the leadup to major games,so we won’t specifically check their information as long as they are in line with AIBA’s standards.
Li called Reuters back to elaborate shortly after,and sounded more agitated.
We have the copy of her ID card,I can show you if you come here. What are you going to do? What’s the point for a media like yours to check this?
You reporters are wrong. We as an entire delegation have no age problem with boxers.