No Fair Competition: China’s Corrupt Sports System Exposed

December 10, 2017 Updated: October 8, 2018

Tian Liang was a star. After winning a gold medal for the 10-meter platform dive at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, he became the subject of national adoration. He won gold again at the 2004 Athens Olympics. 

He began racking up endorsement deals, and his celebrity status became fodder for the tabloids. This drew the ire of China’s sports authorities. He was kicked off the national team in 2005 for “breaking rules.”

When China’s 2005 National Games, a major sporting event considered a platform to identify Olympic-worthy athletes, approached, it was his chance to redeem himself and return to the team.

Unfortunately for Tian, he had gotten on the bad side of an authoritative figure among the country’s diving authorities. Before his competition, this person told judges that no matter how well Tian performed, they could only give him a maximum score of 8.5. Tian still won gold at the games, but he did not make it onto the national team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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A member of the Chongqing Sports Technique School Diving Team practices during a training session in Chongqing, China, on Oct. 25, 2007. Olympic diving champion Tian Liang once trained here. (China Photos/Getty Images)

In the world of China’s sports, this kind of unethical conduct is all too common, according to an exposé recently published in Fangyuan magazine, a publication managed by the Chinese regime’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s highest authority for legal prosecution.

The report cited examples of bribery, kickbacks, rigged competition results, and state-business collusion—all evidence of rampant corruption in China’s sports industry, which is tightly controlled by the Chinese regime.

The General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) is the main governing body of a system that includes sports centers, federations, and coaches countrywide. China’s Olympic Committee is also headed by the GASC bureau chief.

The article noted that the GASC is all-encompassing: It acts as an administrative body, a sports club, and a business entity. Thus, it has the power to “set up competition rules, choose athletes and coaches, review and host competitions, make rulings on disputes, and decide how much money to award competition winners.” Fair competition is nonexistent.

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China’s Tian Liang and Jia Hu dive at the 10th World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona in 2003. (LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)

Corrupt Officials

Chinese officials, who often hold multiple posts that would normally be considered conflicts of interest, are bribed to promote certain athletes, to ensure wins, and to get kickbacks from corporate sponsors. Xiao Tian, former deputy bureau chief of GASC and one of the big “tigers” (a nickname given to powerful officials), was taken down by the Chinese regime’s anti-corruption watchdog agency. Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping took power, he has rolled out a thorough campaign to oust corrupt officials from the Chinese Communist Party.

Xiao started as a fencer from Anhui Province. During his tenure as deputy chief, he used his position to help people get project contracts and job promotions. He received bribes totaling 7.96 million yuan (about $1.2 million) in value, according to the court that sentenced him to 10 1/2 years in prison for graft.

Yu Li, former director of the Synchronized Swimming Department of the GASC, was investigated for bribery in October 2014. At the 2013 National Games, Yu had set up the results of the synchronized swimming competition so that the team from the host province, Liaoning, would win. Yu had received bribes totaling 200,000 yuan (about $30,000) from the director of the Liaoning Swimming Center.

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Yu Li, former director of the Synchronized Swimming Department under the General Administration of Sport of China. (Screenshot/

In the article, soccer was named as a particularly corrupt sport, with officials and referees pocketing money and colluding to manipulate games in their favor. Several high officials have since been punished, including former Football Association vice chairman Nan Yong, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012 for taking bribes totaling 1.5 million yuan (about $245,000) from soccer clubs to secure their wins.

Officials are bribed to promote certain athletes, to ensure wins, and to get kickbacks from corporate sponsors.

Even holding a competition requires paying a bribe to relevant sports departments in the GASC. The department will charge an “approval and management fee”—which does not provide any actual services—before a competition can commence.

“For many years, the GASC and local sports management departments formed a massive chain of profit through sports competitions,” the exposé said.

Selection Process

The process for selecting athletes to compete is often opaque, without clear rules, making it easy for officials to be bribed into allowing an athlete in. Some sports have a head coach who personally makes up the national team list, while others leave it to the leader of the sports center. The exposé pointed out that this is unlike what happens in other countries, where a third party organizes an open contest to determine which athletes will qualify for a competition.

Tang Na, a talented pingpong player who won first place in China’s junior championships in 1996, was widely considered to be a top national contender. But she did not make it onto the world championship team or the Olympic team. Tang later became a naturalized South Korean citizen and competed in the 2008 Olympics as part of the South Korean team, which won bronze. She once said in a 2008 interview that she felt she was never given the opportunity in China to show her full potential. “The China Table Tennis Association doesn’t use a contest to decide candidates, but designates those with potential beforehand and trains them,” she told the Oriental Sports Daily, a Chinese newspaper.

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Tang Na, now named Dang Yeseo, plays for South Korea against Tie Yana of Hong Kong, during a table tennis women’s team match of the London 2012 Olympic Games on Aug. 04, 2012. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

Gold Medals

China’s sports system also places extreme emphasis on winning gold medals, according to the exposé. Based solely on the number of gold medals achieved, sports officials get promoted, athletes’ careers boosted, and coaches’ bonuses awarded. “With the political prestige and economic benefits gold medals brought, some local sports departments will obtain them at all costs,” it said. This is especially intense during the National Games, when different provinces and cities are pitted against each other.

In the past, China’s sports industry has been criticized for state-sanctioned doping and ill treatment of retired athletes. Thousands of former athletes, selected for training at a young age, have been denied a normal education and put through grueling routines. When they don’t show winning results, or eventually retire, the Chinese regime fails to provide proper compensation for treating their physical ailments or assist them in getting a higher education.

Since the exposé was published, the Chinese regime’s official website has revealed that the GASC’s deputy bureau chief, Yang Shu’an, was relieved of his post, including him on a roster of relieved officials posted on Dec. 8, Radio Free Asia reported.

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