The Totalitarian Olympics: Chinese Athletes Not Allowed to Quit

From: The Daily Page

I would be a lot more excited about the summer Olympics if the host country weren’t fielding teams of athletes who are essentially forced laborers. Talk about taking the fun out of sports.

Yang Wenjun, a gold medalist in flatwater canoeing, told The New York Times recently that he longs to quit, but can’t. The Chinese government refused to let him retire after he won his gold medal in 2004, threatening to cut off the income he and his poor, rice-farming parents live on. Yang’s situation is typical.

The system of government-run Chinese sports schools takes children as young as 6 years old from their parents and trains them in their chosen sports, forgoing regular education. Stars are pushed to compete through injury, denied rest and medical care, and put through a grueling training regimen.

“Every time I think about him training, I feel so sad that my heart hurts,” Yang’s mother told the Times. “For him, and for me, there is so much pain.”

Another gold medalist, 10-meter platform diver Hu Jia, is training for the Beijing Olympics despite a detached retina that threatens to blind him. Hu’s father, like Yang’s mother, hasn’t seen his son more than once or twice a year since he was a little boy. He says if he’d known what his son’s life would be like, he’d have never let him compete.

Parents of Olympic champions filled with anguish and remorse over their children’s lives don’t make for the heartwarming “up close and personal” stories favored by the games’ corporate sponsors. In fact, the whole totalitarian-country-in-the-spotlight theme is a bit of a buzz kill.

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