China sports ministry hauled on the carpet over graft measures

Competitors running in front of the Tiananmen Gate during the men's marathon at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Competitors running in front of the Tiananmen Gate during the men's marathon at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top graft-busting body rapped the sports ministry again on Wednesday (May 4) for not taking the country's sweeping campaign against corruption seriously enough, summoning in 17 ministry discipline officials to discuss the problem.

Corruption in international sport is in focus due to US and Swiss probes into soccer's world governing body Fifa, as well as doping scandals that have rocked tennis and athletics.

China, which is aggressively seeking to stamp out graft in Communist Party and government ranks, has also sought to eject corrupt elements from its sports establishment, particularly within soccer, which has been hit by match-fixing scandals.

The country was hit by two new sports graft scandals last year, with probes into deputy sports minister Xiao Tian, who sat on China's Olympics committee, and another into the then-volleyball chief.

The ruling Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said its inspectors attached to the sports ministry had sent teams to departments dealing with swimming and gymnastics, among others.

It summoned in 17 officials in charge of enforcing party discipline to find out if they were following party rules on fighting corruption, the watchdog said.

The inspection found that some ministry departments still did not sufficiently understand that the fight against corruption would never cease and that some people were less than enthusiastic about enforcing party discipline. "Conscientiously resolve the difficult points and problems,"it said. "Remove oversight 'blind spots'." The statement gave no details about specific problems it had found or people who may be punished.

Chinese sports minister Liu Peng warned last year that China had to ditch its gold obsession if it really wanted to weed out corruption.

Chinese athletes bagged the most gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a feat accompanied by a wave of national pride, the culmination of China's "100 year dream" to host the world's most prestigious sports event.

At the London Olympics four years later, China came second to the United States in the medals table.

Olympic medals are generally won by a minority of government-supported athletes who receive huge backing from the state and a failure to perform is accompanied by massive public pressure and hand-wringing back home.

While China is far from being a winter sports power, Beijing, along with the neighbouring city of Zhangjiakou, will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In March, President Xi Jinping said China must hold a Winter Olympics that is "clean as the snow", in an indirect reference to the scandals with Xiao and another former top official linked to the Olympic bid.