Fighting, biting, alleged cheating and an extraordinary on-pitch protest have cast a shadow over China’s National Games and prompted renewed accusations that the quest for medals in the domestic showcase is motivated mainly by greed.
The quadrennial tournament dubbed “China’s Olympics” — which draws to a close in Shenyang on Thursday — features teams from each province and region, as well as the military, emergency services and state-run entities in what is intended as patriotic and friendly competition.
But the stakes are high for each area’s sporting officials, with success unlocking opportunities for promotion and increased funding from the central government in Beijing. Failure, meanwhile, can lead to the sack.
Despite the worthy slogan of “Fitness for all to enjoy”, athletes are under intense pressure to perform, resulting in some extraordinary scenes during the Games’ 12th edition.
During the women’s 10km marathon swim, two of the contestants became embroiled in a fight, with neither of them managing to finish the race.
In wrestling, a heavyweight fighter from Henan was bitten by an opponent from Inner Mongolia. Online images showed him clutching his arm, heavily marked with red teeth-marks, and grimacing in agony at the referee.
But the most striking image was the Beijing women’s rugby sevens team refusing to play the last minutes of their final against Shandong, accusing the referee of prejudice.