'If Foreign Athletes Are Using Stimulants, Why Not Chinese Athletes'

2017-08-11
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Chinese Olympic athlete Li Ning (L) and sports physician Xue Yinxian (R) in a file photo.
Chinese Olympic athlete Li Ning (L) and sports physician Xue Yinxian (R) in a file photo.
Photo provided by Yang Weidong

A retired doctor who blew the whistle on the state-sponsored doping of Chinese gymnasts during the 1980s and 1990s has applied for political asylum in Germany after being persecuted by the authorities back home.

Xue Yinxian, who served as chief medical doctor to the Chinese gymnastics team during the 1980s, said that steroids and human growth hormones were regarded as part of the officially sponsored "scientific training" program as Chinese athletes began winning medals on a large scale.

Xue, who has hidden evidence overseas to support her allegations, said athletes were often injected with performance-enhancing drugs without their being told what they were being given.

She first blew the whistle on the practice in a 2012 interview with Australia's Fairfax Media, telling reporters that staff members who refused to play along were marginalized.

Xue's account, which came just before the London 2012 Olympics, was the first time anyone had publicly exposed the ruling Chinese Communist Party's direct involvement in the doping of athletes.

Previously, Beijing had always blamed personal ambition for a string of doping scandals to hit Chinese athletes during the 1990s.

Now Xue, her son Yang Weidong and his wife Du Xing have arrived in Germany, citing continuing official persecution linked to her whistleblowing.

Studying stimulants

Xue, who is now 79, quoted a top sports official as ordering trainers to include performance-enhancing drugs in their training regimes, saying that they were a "new thing" that should be used as part of China's new emphasis on the "scientific" training of athletes.

"On Oct. 11, 1978, the deputy director ... of the General Administration of Sport addressed a plenary meeting, saying that if foreign athletes are using stimulants, then why not Chinese athletes?" Xue told RFA in a recent interview after arriving in Germany.

"[He said we should] study the use of stimulants in athletes," she said.

She said a sports doctor named Chen Zhanghao had been sent to France to learn how best to use the drugs, and he had come back recommending them as a way of combating burnout and exhaustion.

"By the 1980s and 1990s, they were being used across the entire country," Xue said. "There were 11 national teams at the time, and the party secretary of the national teams training bureau Li Furong ordered all the athletes to take stimulants."

"Anyone who opposed this was regarded as opposing the government and the party."

Chen Zhanghao later headed up a research group into doping, in which stimulants were referred to as "special nutritional medicine."

"I was very opposed to it at the time, and they removed me from my post as head of the medical supervision team before 1984, although I still held on to my job in the gymnastics team," Xue recalled.

"I wanted to stay on there to take care of the athletes' health, but I refused to give stimulants to Li Ning in 1988," she said. "I think I was a bit too naive, because all of the athletes who had won medals during the 1980s and 1990s were taking stimulants under the orders of Li Furong and Chen Zhanghao."

The Chinese team was hit with a string of doping scandals during that era, in weightlifting, swimming, athletics, gymnastics and other teams targeting gold, she said.

On the one hand, Chinese sports officials were forcing their athletes to dope, while on the other studying ways to avoid detection in doping tests. But when they were found out, officials blamed the individuals and coaches and shrugged off responsibility, she said.

Seeking asylum

The family is seeking asylum after their home was searched several times by state security police, who were looking for 68 professional diaries and work logs from Xue's time as an official team doctor.

But Xue said she had already smuggled them out of the country several months earlier.

Xue said she also fears official retaliation via the state-run Chinese healthcare system, after discovering that her personal doctor had been ordered to "prolong her treatment" for a recent illness, suggesting that her life and health may be in danger if she remains in China.

Xue still isn't home and dry, however.

Her son Yang Weidong told RFA that agents of the Chinese government is still trying to contact and threaten them in Germany, and the family has reported all such incidents to the German federal government.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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