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IOC probes potential regulation breach after Chinese cyclists wear pins featuring Mao silhouette

The badges are a potential violation of Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which bans “political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic venues.

Written by Sriram Veera |
August 4, 2021 4:46:08 pm
CycleShanju Bao, left, and Tianshi Zhong, of China, celebrate their gold medals during a ceremony for the track cycling women's team sprint finals at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Izu, Japan (AP)

Mao Zedong, the late authoritarian leader of China, made an appearance at the Olympics, via pins worn by two Chinese cyclists. The red and gold pins with the silhouette of Mao worn in the medal ceremony has triggered the International Olympic Committee to investigate a potential breach of regulations.

The badges are a potential violation of Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which bans “political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic venues.

The pins that once were the omnipresent symbols of Mao’s three-decade rule were on the track suits of the cyclists, Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi.

Mark Adams, an I.O.C. spokesman, said that the committee had asked China’s Olympic delegation to explain the incident.

Cycling Shanju Bao, right, and Tianshi Zhong of Team China compete during the track cycling women’s team sprint finals at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Izu, Japan. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

“They have also assured us already that this will not happen again,” Mr. Adams said.

During his leadership, Mao, who had lead the peasants army to win the civil war and established the Communist People’s Republic of China in 1949, had used sports, and in particular swimming, as a political tool. “Swimming is fighting against nature. Toughen yourself up in the rivers and sea,” Mao reportedly said.

In 1966, his historic swim in the Yangtze river had heralded the new phase of the Cultural Revolution.

Politically, he was in hot water already. His Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), which had millions of peasants farm on government communes and manufacturing crude steel had resulted in the greatest famine in history.

He thought about starting a new policy: the Cultural Revolution. A few months earlier it was reported in the western press that he was gravely ill. To show he was healthy, to attract the youth, he went for his last publicised swim. Prior to the Great Leap Forward too, he had swum the Yangtze on three publicised occasions.

According to critics, it was a carefully staged performance and an example of the body politics in communist China.

“He entered the waters at Wuhan the old man of the revolution, his nascent Cultural Revolution still fragile in its conception. He emerged reborn in the eyes of the nation, the inheritor of modern China and once more the Great Helmsman, ready to lead the country to its true revolutionary destiny. Today’s most accomplished spin doctor could not have planned it better,” wrote Stuart Heaver in a 2016 edition of the South China Morning Post.

Mao had been advocating sports since he was young. In one of his first published works, in 1917, an essay titled ‘The study of physical education”, he wrote: “Our nation is wanting in strength. The military spirit has not been encouraged; The physical condition of the population deteriorates daily. This is an extremely disturbing phenomenon … If our bodies are not strong we will be afraid as soon as we see enemy soldiers, and then how can we attain our goals and make ourselves respected? ”

Now, 45 years after his death, Mao is still causing ripples in the most international sports tournament of them all.

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