China bars swimmer`s return after ban

Last Updated: Dec 17, 2010, 11:53 AM IST

Paris: Do dopers in sport deserve a fresh
start after serving a drugs ban? Or should convicted cheats be
shunned forever?

Those are questions thrown up by the case of Ouyang
Kunpeng, formerly a top Chinese backstroker. Authorities in
his home province say Ouyang wants to return to competitive
swimming after serving a two-year doping ban but cannot
because zealously anti-drug officials in China refuse to give
him a second chance.

China`s treatment of the 28-year-old former Asian record
holder feeds into a wider debate within sports about whether
athletes who fail drug tests should face additional
punishments on top of the bans laid out in the world
anti-doping code, or whether serving a suspension is, in
itself, sufficient.

Britain`s Olympic Association, for example, gives
lifetime Olympic bans to British athletes who fail drug tests.
The International Olympic Committee bars any athlete who
receives a doping suspension of at least six months from
taking part in the next Olympics. Top European track and field
meets, working together, also shun athletes returning from
bans of two years or more.

China`s punishment of Ouyang, however, goes a step
further. Even though his two-year suspension was completed in
May, Chinese sports authorities say he will never again be
allowed to compete in any government-sanctioned swimming
events in China, effectively prolonging his ban.

"We won`t let him represent China in any competition,"
swim official Yuan Haoran told The Associated Press by phone.
"He won`t enter the Chinese national team again because of the
very bad precedent he set."

Ouyang failed a doping test before the 2008 Beijing
Olympics. He was banned for life under regulations for
national team athletes that China introduced earlier that year
and which were more draconian than the international norm. The
ruling Communist Party wanted the Olympics to showcase China`s
rise as a global power.

It did not want doping cases to sully the show or its
athletes. Ouyang was made an example of to demonstrate
zero-tolerance and to show that China had cleaned up
significantly since a rash of drug cases, particularly in
swimming and athletics, in the 1990s and early 2000s raised
questions about whether doping in China was state-sanctioned
or poorly policed.

The life ban for Ouyang was not in line with the world
anti-doping code`s two-year suspension for first offenses. So
swimming`s governing body, FINA, acting with the World
Anti-Doping Agency, quietly and successfully pressured China
to reduce the ban. That sentence-reduction has not been
publicized until now. They leaned on China by filing an appeal
to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"In order not to proceed further with the appeal
procedure, the Chinese Swimming Association finally reduced
the suspension to a two years` sanction," FINA said in a
statement.

But even though FINA and WADA intervened on Ouyang`s
behalf, the anti-doping agency`s director general, David
Howman, says it is powerless to help him now.

"If the Chinese authorities do not allow him to compete
in Chinese government sponsored events, this is not a matter
of anti-doping rules but rather of Chinese regulations. There
is not much WADA could do about it," Howman said in a
statement.

"The only realistic solution would seem to be that he
pursue his swimming career outside of mainland China."

Sports authorities in Ouyang`s home province of Jiangxi
say the triple silver medalist at the 2006 Asian Games wants
to resume competition, has kept fit during his ban and is
working as a swim coach and trainer.

But Yuan, a swimming director at the government`s General
Administration of Sport, said the domestic ban for Ouyang will
last for life. He also said that after two-plus years out of
the sport, Ouyang is no longer good enough to compete for the
national team.

"Many athletes have overtaken him now,`` he said.

Still, an official at the Jiangxi provincial sports
bureau said they are petitioning Chinese swimming authorities
to allow Ouyang to compete in government-organized events.

Unless that happens, Ouyang will only be able to compete
in nonofficial or club events in China, of which there are not
many and where "the quality of competition is not very high,"
said the Jiangxi sports official reached by phone. He gave
only his surname, Wang.

The maintained domestic prohibition for Ouyang comes
despite China saying that it has since suspended the
regulations it used to ban him for life in 2008. The General
Administration of Sport plans to introduce new regulations in
2011 that will be in line with WADA`s code, said an official
at the administration`s regulatory department, who gave his
name as Mr. Zhang.

Bureau Report

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