Former Track and Field Athlete Reveals Dark Side of Chinese Sports

July 28, 2020 Updated: July 28, 2020

The Chinese regime spotted Duan Daili’s outstanding athletic abilities at a young age. He was selected to start training in track and field at age 13.

In primary school, he outpaced the competition in one event by a large margin. Duan competed at the municipal and provincial levels, and eventually joined the national sports university. He said, “The richer parents would not send their kids to a sports school. It’s very hard and tough. The children suffer a lot more than other kids of the same age.”

“It’s totally and absolutely a lie about it being an honor,” said Duan. The majority of athletes in China are under great pressure. The doping in sports is not new, as some athletes have even become infertile.

The Corrupt Sports Sector

Duan pointed out that the communist system uses a cookie-cutter approach in training that is accompanied by quantity. Internationally renowned Chinese athletes are few even though a large number of highly talented people undergo training in China. It’s because there’s no personalized tweaking to the training. On top of that, the corrupt sports sector has had a detrimental effect on the development and training of the athletes.

He said that there are various kinds of bullying in the sports institute—it’s the coach who decides if the athlete gets to go further, and consequently, various unspoken rules have evolved.

The first time Duan’s parents met the coach was in a restaurant. They didn’t meet there to enjoy a meal or get acquainted. Instead, Duan’s parents were there to pay the coach’s bill.

Duan said, “Chinese athletes must build a good relationship with their coaches. It is the coach who decides if you get to play, not your performance.” Duan wanted to improve himself by relying on the effort he put into training; but he gradually realized that it was impossible.

The coach will ask team members to do his personal laundry, clean his home, and even buy him holiday gifts. Some coaches will even sexually harass and infringe on the athletes. The vast majority of team members dare not resist. Some people endure, some choose to quit, while others gradually go along with it and become part of the corrupt system.

Overloaded Cookie-Cutter Training

Duan recalled the years he spent at the sports school. At 4 a.m., he started running a 25-mile (40-kilometer) marathon that ended at about 7 a.m. After breakfast, he attended morning classes. Then speed training took place in the afternoon, where he ran 500 meter and 800 meter distances five or ten times, followed by strength training in the evening. This routine was repeated every day. The training was never customized to individual needs; but was the same for everyone.

The students must accept the schedule arranged by the coaches and the teaching assistants. There is no personal space or time. Duan said the training is cruel and overloaded. An athlete’s tolerance and limits were never evaluated nor considered.

“Professional thick-soled running shoes are worn out in just one month of training on the professional track,” he said. This shows how frequent and heavy the training was. Half a day without training is considered adequate rest.

The diet of the sports school students was similar to that of ordinary students—the only difference is that the athletes got one extra glass of milk or soy milk a day.

Often, Duan burst into tears when he was running. He said: “It’s hard to imagine a boy crying because of fatigue, but there is totally a physical breakdown, and it’s beyond psychological tolerance.” One time he was so exhausted that he collapsed, and his feet rotated by 90 degrees, which required surgery. The recovery took a long time.

Doping Is Prevalent

Duan said that permanent sports injuries happened to many athletes under the overloaded training at the sports schools. Many female athletes stopped menstruating. Some people even became infertile due to long-term use of stimulants. The use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by Chinese athletes is common. Many coaches will ask their players to use drugs.

Duan said one of his teammates took some pill and his breathing became noticeably less audible. He said: “When we run fast, we need increased air exchange and oxygen. After taking the drug, one’s physical fitness would improve significantly.”

In the 1990s, track coach Ma Junren was famous because his women’s long-distance running team broke numerous world records. However, several teammates tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. After that, research on using the drug focused on avoiding detection and the most efficient method of ingestion.

The Burden of Being an Athlete

There are very few athletes who make it to the international competition level. “Ninety-nine percent of the students in sports college are eliminated,” Duan said. Those who leave the sports college are rarely able to go back to ordinary schools or get a higher education. Most of them perform various jobs at an early age. Some even become beggars on the street.

Duan said that during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the homes of the participating athletes were visited by officials carrying millions of yuan. They watched the events with the athlete’s family. As long as the players won medals, the family members directly received the money, and a state position was arranged after the athlete retired. But if they failed, they lost everything. “It is difficult for the Chinese in the system to fight against this unbearable expectation,” Duan said. They would rather lose their lives and win the medal. It’s not for honor. They are brainwashed or have distorted thinking within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) system, and there are also things that are difficult to resist, such as the temptation of earning fame and fortune.

He said, “It is a complete lie to talk about bringing pride to the nation. This is just propaganda created by the CCP. Most athletes are under tremendous pressure.”

Hidden Dangers in Football Leagues

Duan doesn’t believe that there has been any change in the Chinese sports industry, even the commercialized training of football players is lagging behind in development. It would take decades to catch up. “There are good coaches in China. But within the system, coaches can’t change anything because they have to follow the mainstream way set up by the state,” he said.

Duan was once a personal coach for many of the players of the Chinese Football Association Super League. He said that these professional football players are also trained using the cookie-cutter approach. For example, a player might need more lower body muscle strength training, but the coach has the player to do the same upper body strength training as other members of the team. The team hires foreign coaches to provide playing tactics, not training methods.

Duan said one’s relationship with the coach determines if the athlete gets to play on a Chinese football team. A good relationship with the coach is all it takes to get time on the field. A Chinese athlete’s training and benefits are controlled by the coach. To put it simply, do whatever the coach asks you to do, Duan said. Therefore, the majority of Chinese professional sports players have abnormal diets and lifestyles. They lack self-control and self-discipline.

Most of the league team owners operate the team to develop their own enterprises. The operators of Chinese football teams are mostly large real estate developers and insurance consortia. For these bosses, a football team is used to bring advertising to their businesses and to establish relationships with the local government.

Duan explained the benefits of owning a team. A real estate developer could establish a good relationship with local government when it needs to build its image through the football team’s performance. Through such a relationship, the owner could win various governmental construction bids worth billions of dollars. Therefore, the Chinese football association is about making capital, not sports development.