Chinese athletes, who are seeking to take part in next month’s London Olympics, said not eating meat caused recent defeats. The athletes say they were forced to adopt a vegetarian diet out of fear the meat is tainted with clenbuterol.
Chinese women’s volleyball team lost 3–0 to the U.S. team, on Sunday, and lost three of their four other matches to Thailand, Turkey, and Brazil. The volleyball team’s coach attributes so many losses to the lack of meat consumption. “We dare not eat meat when competing outside [of our home base] for fear of clenbuterol … and it does affect our strength,” said Yu Juemin, the coach of the volleyball team, according to the Communist Party-run Global Times quoting other Beijing media. Several athletes experienced cramping during the final games.
Clenbuterol is a fat-burning chemical that is sometimes used to raise Chinese livestock and has been at the center of the country’s food safety problems. The volleyball team refrained from eating any meat until after they returned to their training location. “We ate pork only after we returned to Beilun,” (the teams training location), Yu said, according to the Hong Kong-based Standard newspaper.
The admissions from athletes and coaches leave a black mark on both the country’s athletics department and its food industry. If athletes consume meat laced with clenbuterol and fail a urine test, Olympic authorities could disqualify them from competing.
Some Chinese farmers still feed their livestock clenbuterol to get leaner meat at a faster rate. It is generally used to produce leaner pork. The substance is banned by some sports because it can lead to heart palpitations, dizziness, and in some cases, cancer. In the U.S. and many other countries, clenbuterol cannot be fed to any animal that is used for human consumption.
In another incident, approximately 700 Jiangsu Province athletes in January stopped eating beef that was found to have elevated levels of clenbuterol, according to the Global Times report. The incident prompted a local farmer to donate three tons of supposedly uncontaminated pork. Earlier this year, China’s sports administration moved its meat source to a state-owned agency to get meat free of additives.
Contaminated meat affected Chinese athletes before this year. Tong Wen, the Chinese judo champion, tested positive for clenbuterol in 2009 and was banned two years later. Her judo team has since raised its own pigs, ducks, and chickens to secure safe meat, according to the Times.
The World Anti-Doping Agency last year warned “athletes to exercise extreme caution with regards to eating meat when traveling to competitions in China,” as it has a serious meat contamination problem.
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