China says must ditch gold obsession to root out sports graft

China's Liu Peng addresses the media during a news conference after the briefing for International Olympic Committee (IOC) members by the 2022 Winter Olympic Games candidate city of Beijing at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

BEIJING (Reuters) - China must ditch its obsession with winning gold medals if really wants to root out corruption in sports, especially ahead of next year's Rio Olympics, the country's sports chief was quoted as saying on Wednesday. Corruption in international sports is in focus because of a U.S. and Swiss probe into football's world governing body FIFA. China, which is aggressively seeking to stamp out graft in Communist Party and government ranks, has also sought to eject corrupt elements from its sports establishment, particularly within football, which has been hit by match-fixing scandals. China was hit by two new sports graft scandals over the summer, with probes into a deputy sports minister who sat on China's Olympics committee, and another into the country's volleyball chief. Few details have been released on either. Speaking at an internal meeting on fighting corruption, sports minister Liu Peng said the sector needed to think deeply about why it had a graft problem and take "decisive steps" to excise it. "It is mainly focussed on rewards for putting gold above all else, which has warped the spirit of sports," Liu said, in comments carried by the party's graft-busting Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. This has created "numerous problems" and must be banished, he added, without elaborating. "We must ... increase thought education, instil a correct view of sports rewards and deepen sports reform," Liu said. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese athletes swept to the top of the gold medal table, a feat accompanied by a wave of national pride, the culmination of China's "100 year dream" to host the world's most prestigious sports event. At the London Olympics four years later China came second, after the United States. Olympic medals are generally won by a minority of government-supported athletes, who get huge backing from the state and failure to perform is accompanied by massive public pressure and hand-wringing back home. "The gongs and drums are beating for preparations for the Rio Olympics, and we must choose the athletes for competition with a serious and conscientious attitude and strong feeling of the rules and responsibility," Liu said. Beijing, along with the neighbouring city of Zhangjiakou, will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics, despite China being far from a winter sports power. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)