China raises concerns over retired athletes

Updated: 2007-11-11 08:31

BEIJING - More and more retired athletes have been receiving public assistance in China when troubles raid after a string of cases shocked the society.

Former skiing national champion Zhao Yonghua entered China's PLA 306 hospital for diabetes treatment free of charge on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Zhao, a quadruple gold medallist in super-G, grand slalom, slalom and overall at the 1997 national championship, was diagnosed with diabetes to retire in 1998.

Cataract and retinitis followed up as the diabetes syndrome, but the medical cost was too much for Zhao's family to afford.

After nearly 10 years' bothering with the disease, Zhao pondered to put her honorable medals on auction for medical fares this year.

Like the sport of skiing, Zhao's fate undertook a U-turn when the charity-oriented "Olympic Star Fund" took over Zhao's case by contacting Yingzhi eyes hospital in October. Zhao successfully underwent an operation on October 9 free of charge before being hospitalized in the PLA 306 hospital.

"Olympic Star Fund" was founded by the Red Cross Society of China in April, dedicated to the well-being of retired and physically-challenged athletes as well as potential Olympic stars.

"I just can't believe it comes so soon. I finished the operation on my eyes last month and the diabetes treatment comes so soon," said Zhao on Thursday. "I should thank those who care about me."

In China, some athletes can't find decent job after retirement for the lack of education. But as a special group of society, athletes are easier to win support from the public and institutions.

It's not something unusual for public attention for hard-set out-of-service athletes. A similar occurrence befell on a former Beijing marathon champion Ai Dongmei.

Ai, the 1999 Beijing Marathon winner, had to be living on selling popcorn and children's clothes on the streets of Beijing to make ends meet.

Ai sued her former coach Wang Dexian as well as the Locomotive Sports Association in September last year, seeking 160,000 RMB (21,000 U.S. dollars) as compensation for her injuries incurred during training. Ai also accused Wang of exploiting her prize money.

In order to fund the case, Ai put all her 19 medals up for sale on internet, making headlines in April.

Under the concerns of the public, Wang Zhongyi, head of the Locomotive Sports Association where Ai used to belong to, paid Ai a compensation fee of 119,000 yuan (about 15,600 US dollars) plus 16,000 US dollars as embezzled wage and bonus for all these years on June 18th.

In return Ai discharged her appeal, thus the court session set on June 21 was annulled.

Ai also had a surgery on her deformed feet resulted from excessive training in Beijing on July 30.

Another case happened to former national weightlifting champion Zou Chunlan.

Zou used to lead a meager life after retirement, having raised livestock, transported sand or worked in a public bathroom.

But after her plight came to surface, things were getting better for Zou last autumn when she started to run a laundry in the northeastern city of Changchun with the backing of relative institutions.

China is on a way to combine sports with education in a bid to earn a sustainable development of the sports and maintain a better-off living for retired athletes.

China sent a large member of registered college students to the Bangkok Universiade in August.

The right to organize the Universiade delegation was transferred from the State General Administration of Sports to the Ministry of Education in late 2003.

In the past, China usually preferred training more to education to athletes. For those top-flight athletes, they were admitted into the universities thanks to their good results but had missed out a dozen years of formal education made their education fruitless.

Promoting the idea of combining formal education with sport training, China is trying to change the situation.

"Now we are leaning towards athletes trained in the universities in our efforts to integrate the sport system and formal education," said deputy chef de mission Guo Jianjun during the Universiade.

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