Taiwan was overjoyed by weightlifter Hsu Shu-ching’s (許淑淨) gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Monday last week, yet when her teammate Lin Tzu-chi (林子琦) was suspended for doping a few days later, the disparity in column inches — not to mention social media eulogizing — was noticeable.
Lin’s suspension should not have come as a surprise. She had already served a two-year ban for a failed test ahead of the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in 2010.
One might recall that this was the same event that saw blue murder hollered over the notorious “sockgate” incident in which Taiwanese taekwondo competitor Yang Shu-chun (楊淑君) was disqualified for allegedly wearing illegal sensors.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that, once the clamor for retribution had subsided, Yang withdrew a case she had filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport with no explanation as to why she was backing down and little in the way of media analysis.
It should be added that Taiwan has form with weight-lifting cheats, with two female competitors having been suspended ahead of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. As a repeat offender, Lin is in illustrious company in Rio. This has been the Games where the issue of serial dopers came to the fore. High-profile athletes with more than one blemish include Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova and US sprinter Justin Gatlin. What has been refreshing is the willingness of other athletes to call out these transgressors, with Lilly King, who bested Efimova in the 100m breaststroke, publicly dressing down her tarnished rival.
However, as many commentators have observed, the real blame lies with the authorities, with swimming’s top body FINA coming in for criticism for its stance on recidivists. Confidence in the administration is at an all-time low, particularly after FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu remarked that doping was “not a big problem” in the sport.
“Swimming’s own [former FIFA president] Sepp Blatter” cemented his reputation for ill-timed gaffes and inappropriate behavior by giving China’s Sun Yang (孫楊) — a swimmer with a doping ban — a hearty hug after his victory in the 200m freestyle.
Sun later referred to Marculescu as a “grandfather” to China’s swimmers.
However, the most controversial power broker at the Games can be found a lot closer to home: Taiwan’s Wu Ching-kuo (吳經國) has gained a Machiavellian reputation, particularly among the British media, which has cast him as a villainous figure with the Bond-villian-like moniker “Dr Wu.”
Elected head of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) in 2006, the British-educated Wu was initially praised for appearing to take a tough stance on corruption and cronyism. Many commentators also approved of his abandonment of the punch scoring system and return to the “10-point must” method of scoring. He was also responsible for winning Olympic status for women’s boxing.
However, Wu soon emerged as an autocratic figure, announcing in 2007 that the AIBA’s mission was “to govern the sport of boxing worldwide in all its forms.”
Prescriptive moves to this end came in 2013 when he dropped the word “amateur” from AIBA’s English name — the body’s full French title was originally Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur.
Later that year he created a series of tournaments and leagues to bridge the gap between the two levels and with the stated aim of allowing pros to compete at the Olympics.
When England’s Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) excluded boxers who had competed in one of these events from competing in the ABA national championships, Wu slapped English fighters with a ban from all competitions. This was soon rescinded, but only after Wu had said he hoped the English body “would learn from its mistakes” in going against the AIBA.
It was not until June that the AIBA finally gave the green light to the Olympic scheme and a tournament was convened with what one British journalist described as “indecent haste.”
Further scorn was heaped on Wu’s decision to hold the event in Venezuela, a country on the brink of chaos. The event is said to have cost Caracas US$450,000.
And with four of Venezuela’s six competitors making it through to Rio, eyebrows have been raised.
What most rankled many was the idea of allowing pros to compete. There was the question of potential danger that might come from seasoned veterans facing inexperienced fighters. These fears proved unfounded, with the three professionals who made it to Rio going out early, including former IBF lightweight world champion Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand. For others, the move simply goes against the Olympic ethos and undermines the amateur structures of competitor nations.
However, far more disturbing than this were a series of revelations in British magazine Private Eye earlier this year.
In addition to the claim that the AIBA had not conducting a single doping test last year, the magazine drew attention to a US$10 million “loan agreement” that Wu had signed with an oil company in Azerbaijan owned by Azeri politician Kamaladdin Heydarov.
Wu has thus far shown no inclination to repay the “loan” and, according to the report, the issue has not been addressed by an audit committee, “possibly because Wu disbanded it.”
A secretly commissioned investigation by accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that, aside from Wu, “no other member of the executive management of AIBA and its affiliates, including the accounting staff, was aware of the terms of the loan and in particular the AIBA’s position as guarantor.”
Former AIBA executive director Ho Kim referred to the affair and Wu’s “rapidly expanding budget” in June last year and was fired soon after.
Following his ouster, Kim claimed that Wu’s failed bid for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee in 2013 was bankrolled by this alleged slush fund.
Further connections to Central Asian criminality come in the form of AIBA vice president Gafur Rakhimov, an alleged drug czar and organized-crime figure who was banned from entering Australia for the Sydney Olympics. Wu has so far resisted calls to axe the Uzbek official.
Finally, accusations of corruption have come from the boxers themselves. After dropping a widely lambasted points decision to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in the quarter-finals of the men’s bantamweight 56kg division in Rio, Irish boxer Michael Conlan launched and expletive-laden broadside against the AIBA.
“Amateur boxing stinks from the core to the top,” he said. “It’s all about who pays the most money.”
As a result of the Conlan decision, several judges and officials were sent home, though bizarrely none of those involved in the bout.
Responding to the furor, an unnamed senior figure within the AIBA told the Guardian that more drastic measures were required.
“President Wu needs to resign, as well as the executive director and the senior staff. Every RJ [referee and judge] and ITO [international technical official] needs to be suspended. That’s the only way it’s going to change,” the source said.
Considering the scant media that Taiwan garners during the Olympics is usually related to the ignominy of its official nomenclature, this is one association we could do without.
James Baron is a freelance writer and journalist based in Taipei.
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