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Free medical for elite athletes causes stir | Updated: 2013-03-19 16:20

An announcement from the Shanghai sports authority for a plan to provide free medical insurance for life to its world champion athletes has stirred wide turbulence in cyberspace on the issue of medical care and privilege.

The municipal, home to 23 world or Olympic champions and four coaches to world title winners, including hurdler Liu Xiang, markswoman Tao Luna and Liu's coach Sun Haiping, designated Huashan Hospital to offer the free medical service for life to these hometown heroes. The insurance covers both sports injuries and common ailments like cold and toothache.

Li Shuyi, head of the municipal sports bureau, said the free medical care is athlete-centered and a way to pay back athletes' hard work today.

A comment piece run by Xinhua News Agency said on Monday that not all hard-working athletes are champions, and most of them go back to a hard life after retirement. "Compared to the minority of elite athletes, who gain substantial financial rewards and business endorsements, the majority of ordinary athletes need free medical care more," the comment said.

There have been numerous news reports about retired athletes without decent jobs or sufficient social security selling their medals to earn a living or pay for medical expenses.

Times, a newspaper based in Guangdong, argued that medical care is a matter of people's livelihood. "Livelihood means protecting the basic rights of the people, not an extra reward for the minority."

Shanghai's preferential policy of elite medical care follows the just-concluded national two sessions, where China's new leadership pledged a livelihood safety network covering all. "Inequalities remain to be tackled in medical reform, and there is no space for new unfairness," said a comment in Nanfang Metropolis Daily.

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