How Could You Take Away Her Medal? IOC Investigating Chinese Gymnasts’ Age

by Julian Ku

<p><br Franck Fife / AFP - Getty Images via MSNBC/></p>     Franck Fife/AFP via MSNBC   

As we’ve learned from our expert guest-bloggers, there are disputes arising out of the Olympics, and then there are DISPUTES.   The reported International Olympic Committee investigation into the age of Chinese gymnast and gold medalist He Kexin (何可欣) qualifies as the type of DISPUTE that could really get ugly. Why? Because a big part of the investigation will have to deal with alleged Chinese government involvement in covering up the ages of Chinese gymnasts.  The investigation appears to have been spurred by a NY-based blogger whose fascinatingly simple investigation can be found here.  

Politically, I just can’t imagine the IOC will want to embarrass China like this.  And if they do, I sense an ugly nationalist backlash in China.  This is pretty much the ultimate test of the IOC’s commitment to enforcing its rules. And perhaps we can look forward to a nice long arbitration battle afterwards?

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/08/21/how-could-you-take-away-her-medal-ioc-investigating-chinese-gymnasts-age/

6 Responses

  1. More importantly, why now?

    It would have been better for everyone involved if they had addressed this before the gymnasts had won the gold.

    Instead, we’ll either be treated to the spectacle of a cover-up, denial, or some 14 year old girl losing her gold medal because she did what her government told her to.

  2. The investigation will take enough time that the explosion resulting from taking away the medals will be manageable.

  3. Two points: I’m a bit upset about the “trial by blogger” (IT security expert?) especially the ex post facto nature of it  (He has been competing all season) and the way it has been seeped out via the internet. I would have far preferred if the individual-cum-investigator siphoned his “evidence” through official channels. Viral rumours like this take on a life of their own. Moreover, it seems that at the very least, if the blogger is correct – he would have violated the privacy rights of a child in the process. The second point (and what the Europeans are whispering about) is “would this process be happening if the US were not in the silver medal position?”

  4. This is a very interesting and complicated story.  The Chinese state has a definite interest in the well-being of the child as does the family.  I am not sure whether privacy rights of the kind described here form a part of Chinese domestic law.  It certainly seems that in a communist state system there is no privacy against the state.  Is the privacy of a child an international norm to which China has acceded – I do not know that area of the law.
    Do US rules on child privacy rights cover a blogger in the US? Yes.  With regard to accessing documents that are in China? Interesting.  Imagine that the girl brings a suit against the blogger for violation of privacy in a US court under US law.  I guess the US court would have to think whether US privacy law applies to this US act which leads to a violation overseas.  I think the court could say that, but then the question would be whether the accessing of public available documents in China and the serious suspicions of state fraud would lead a judge to uphold the suit.  Act of State doctrine might come in here too by the US judge not wanting to question a Chinese decision in China.
    Assuming the blogger is state side and has managed to access only publicly available documents, it would seem to me that the Chinese state would have determined that this information was public information.  The removal of the records that show the difference in age for her would appear to raise issues about the state’s willingness to fudge.

    Another level is the willingness of the girl’s parents to go along with the alleged fictions – after all, the father and mother know the day she was actually born no matter what state “reinterpretation of history” (like the air-brushing out of Trotsky from various Bolshevik pictures).  Even communist ideology cannot overcome the physical laws of the universe that say that people who are born are born on a given day.  The parental and state collusion would suggest to me that a guardian-ad-litem should be appointed (if there is such a thing or equivalent in China) to protect the interests of the child against the state and against the parents.  I would say, that the IOC should also examine whether – in a situation of evident conflict of interest among the Chinese government and parents in a communist system where everyone is a part of the state – the IOC should appoint an independent guardian-ad-litem whose focus is on the interests of the child in the context of the IOC investigation.  Such an investigation by an international body I would imagine is a private administrative process.

    I would think that the Court of Arbitration of Sports arbitrators should be the ones in front of which this dispute could be examined with impartiality.  Maybe that should be the recourse after the investigation.

    I do fear that investigation is really about waiting til the games have passed and attention has gone elsewhere.

    As to whether this would happen if the Americans did not have the silver, I think it depends on how voracious is the focus of countries on gymnastics.  In America, the focus is extremely intense on this area since the stunning Nadia Comaneci domination as many of you know.   I would think that the willingness to pay attention to the complaint – as with many things – relates to the level of perceived power and money associated with the complaining country.  US television deals are a big part of IOC revenue so it gets the attention.  That is the way the invisible hand works it seems to me – not that I am proud of it but that sure is what it looks like.

    As to the blogger going through channels, you know I have great respect for channels.  Channels are institutions that have power and the question usually comes up as to what happens when you go through channels.  The institutions have other interests that may go against the actual truth getting out and something being done.  So the blogger who goes up the chain of command, as in many areas, finds that nothing happens.  But, once it is on the internet or in the press, the dynamic in “channels” changes with that hydraulic pressure.

    I also think that us old net citizens should look at the Google apparently censoring as further evidence of just how corporate the net is.  No one has any of that free spirit any more except to make money, money, and money.  As Lenin supposedly said, capitalists would sell you the rope to hang them with (Was that Lenin?  Old vague memory from college classes).

    Best,
    Ben

  5. Many athletes have been disappointed by the rules of the IOC when found with illicit drugs in their system, but their medals have been taken away.  Why should this be any different?  The rules are there to make the competition fair – mano y mano.  I agree that “It would have been better for everyone involved if they had addressed this before the gymnasts had won the gold.”  but the fact is that the IOC’s reluctance to investigate because of fear of embarrasing China has caused the situation at hand. 

    If they hadn’t won a medal but were found out to be under age – would it be embarrasing then?  The Olympics is supposed to be about being there and competing, not the medals, but every night on the news we get the “medal count.”  THIS is why NOW, when it is obvious that someone who competed at age 13 last year could not possibly be 16 this year, we must look to embarrasing a country who’s human rights record is deplorable.  Because it would lower their medal count.  Shameful.  Shame on the IOC and shame on China.  I hope to see these gymnasts at the next olympics, when their age won’t be an issue.

  6. The IOC will likely take no action against China because the IOC had a vested interest in China winning lots of medals at these Games, especially at the expense of the USA. Simply put, they are hoping to pump up China as the heir to the USSR as America’s next great Olympic rival, all to rekindle U.S. interest (read: TV ratings, which impact broadcast rights fees and advertising/sponsorship dollars) in the Games, which has been in decline since the end of the Soviet Union and their sports machine. China’s own sports machine, and its Soviet-style penchant for bending the rules and getting away with it, makes them the obvious choice for that role, and the IOC knows it as well as any of us do.

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