China aims to keep athletes off sporting scrapheap

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BEIJING, Oct 11 (Reuters) The 23,000 athletes in China's state-run sports system are to receive a year of re-training upon retirement to try and end the national embarrassment of former heroes ending up destitute.

A new directive was sent from Beijing to provincial sports ministries last month detailing the employment rights of the country's ''excellent athletes''.

''The main point of this regulation is to give the athletes a one-year transition period after they retire,'' Chu Bo, vice director-general of the personnel department at China's sports ministry, told Reuters in an interview.

''They will get financial backing and other resources from the local government to help them learn necessary skills and readjust to society mentally.

''Their prospects will be much broader ... Our principle is they could go to universities or choose any job they like,'' he added.

''But we will of course provide them with training in the transition year if they want be a coach, or help them get a teacher's certificate.'' HARD TIMES Chinese media has highlighted several cases athletes falling on hard times over the last couple of years, including that of former national champion weightlifter Zou Chunlan who ended up scrubbing peoples' backs in a washhouse.

The problem was discussed in March by an advisory body to China's parliament, with some delegates expressing fears that parents would keep their children out of the national sports system because post-career support was not guaranteed.

''Indeed, we have noticed the media reports and the problem exists that athletes who retired in the 1980s and 1990s had poor guarantees,'' he said.

''Our measure is aimed at preventing an athlete finding himself in the embarrassing position of being unable to do anything outside sport when he retires.'' Chu said the problems with retired athletes reflected wider trends in state-run areas of Chinese society, which has undergone major changes over the last three decades as a result of economic reforms.

''It's well-known that China is going through a transitional period,'' he said. ''In the past everything was operated by the government but now the management of athletes and their retirement is market-facing.

TEMPORARY PROBLEMS There are indeed some problems taking place but I think they are just temporary. We are positively taking measures to deal with them and I believe we will solve the problems.'' Efforts have included allowing athletes to be part of the national social insurance system and insuring them against injury.

''As long as they are registered athletes, they will be covered by this system for the whole of their career,'' Chu said.

One of the main obstacles to government reforms in China has been insuring that central policies are carried out at local level and that was no different for the sports ministry, Chu said.

''The key point is how to ensure it is carried out,'' he added. ''Previous problems were mainly because of poor execution of the policies.

''This (new policy) is progress but it needs to be improved step by step.'' REUTERS BJR KP1042

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