Saturday October 27, 2012
Weighed down by nationality
Made In China
By CHOW HOW BAN
Young athlete ‘loaned’ to Kazakhstan excels as Olympian, and suddenly her citizenship status becomes an issue.
THE weightlifter who won the gold medal for Kazakhstan in the 53kg women’s event in the London Olympics in July returned to her hometown in Hunan province recently.
Zulfiya Chinshanlo, also known as Zhao Changling by her Chinese compatriots, was back in China to apply for a Chinese ID card at a police station in Changsha city.
This is the world and Olympic champion’s bid to change her nationality to Chinese and represent China in future competitions.
When met at the office of the Hunan provincial weightlifting sport management centre on Monday, Zhao told the Morning H newspaper that it was great to be back and reunited with her former coaches and teammates.
“I have never said that I am not Chinese. I have always been known as Zhao Changling, a weightlifter from Dao county in Hunan province,” said the 19-year-old athlete.
Zhao was among two young weightlifters under an exchange programme in which the Kazakhstan and Chinese sports authorities signed a five-year contract in 2007 for the two to train in Kazakhstan.
Then, Zhao was naturalised as a Kazakh citizen representing her adopted country in the world championships in 2009 and 2011 and the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010.
According to Kazakhstan records, Zulfiya was born in Almaty in Kazakhstan and is of the Dungan ethnic group.
During her visit to the weightlifting sport management centre, Zhao expressed her enthusiasm to return to her former base to train with her Chinese teammates.
“I am back. I will try to put on the Chinese national uniform again and hopefully win titles for China.
“I can only be back for a month this time. After this, I will return to Almaty. When my ID card application and other procedures are all done, I will be a complete Chinese,” she said.
The exchange programme ended on Sept 15.
Zhao’s return has caused a stir in China, leaving many sports enthusiasts and observers pondering over the effects of the so-called Wolf-Rearing Plan launched by China a few years ago to send its athletes overseas to help with the development of sports dominated by China.
The objective of such a programme is no doubt noble for the sake of the overall development of a sport. But the problem will arise when the adopted country refuses to release the athlete at the end of the programme.
Zhou Junfu, deputy director of the weightlifting sport management centre, said that after the Olympic Games, the centre and the Hunan provincial weightlifting association wrote to their Kazakh counterparts for the release of Zhao.
“We have not received any response from them. It seems that they do not want to release her.
“Zhao is just 19 and she is a very promising weightlifter. Perhaps they hope that she can win more titles for Kazakhstan in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics,” he told China Central Television (CCTV).
“But we really hope to have her back and she is also very keen to represent China again.”
Some Netizens described Zhao as an abandoned athlete in her younger days and criticised the Chinese authorities for taking her back only after she had won the Olympic gold.
In its editorial, Hebei Youth Daily said Zhao was part of a chess programme by higher authorities that did not consider the complications caused to the athlete.
“In a minute, she becomes a foreigner and in the other minute she becomes a Chinese. She is used to being called Zulfiya and now Zhao Changling. The public can only sympathise with what she is going through and hope that what she chose is good for her career.
“But the public should question whether this kind of sports system is rational or not. Zhao and Yao Meili (the other weightlifter loaned to Kazakhstan) were both under the Wolf-Rearing Plan but the latter did not return home. How much pain or bitterness behind such athletes can we understand?” it said.
Chinese laws do not allow athletes with dual citizenship to represent China. As such, Chinese General Administration of Sports deputy minister Li Hao said Zhao would have to cancel her Kazakh citizenship and apply to be a Chinese citizen before any possibility of representing China.
“This is a new problem that we are facing. We will of course sit down with the Chinese Weightlifting Association again to discuss our policies and guidelines (on the exchange programme),” he told CCTV.
“We do not directly interfere with the negotiations between the Hunan provincial weightlifting association and Kazakhstan authorities. Once they submit reports to us we will look at them, and if the exchange programme complies with the guidelines we will endorse them.”
When asked how many more Chinese athletes were on such exchange programmes, he said: “As far as I know, there are very few of them. Zhao Changling and Yao Meili are considered precedents.”