Recently I asked a Chinese journalist about the underage gymnast controversy. What, I asked her, did Chinese sportswriters who cover gymnastics think about the assertions that at least three of the members of the Chinese team were under 16? Was it western prejudice? Sour grapes? A cultural misunderstanding?
She didn't bat an eye. Chinese journalists generally knew that the gymnasts in question,
If I can get that much from a single conversation with a one journalist, imagine what a full-bore IOC investigation might unearth. Where are the parents of these children? Where are the hospitals that delivered them? Where are their medical records? Their childhood neighbors and friends? The gymnasts they used to train with? Tracking down the age of these gymnasts wouldn't be rocket science, but it would take some time and effort. It might even exonerate China, and prove that, all along, the host nation was telling the truth. So why on earth hasn't it been done?
Why indeed. Cheating is cheating. The IOC spends millions of dollars trying to ferret out drug cheats. Yet they ignore allegations of institutionalized cheating by an authoritarian government that has the ability to alter the dates on a passport anytime it wants. The IOC's response to the whole underage gymnast controversy? One statement saying that they'd checked out the passports of the gymnasts in question and they were in order. Any other questions should be directed to the FIG. All's well in China. Let the Games begin. (How young do the Chinese gymnasts look? Check out the photos
It's an outrage. For the IOC to sit idly by while an inept organization like the FIG -- the geniuses who meekly asked
The U.S. women's team coordinator,
To roll back the age requirement, however, would be a backwards and unfortunate step. Many of us think the 16-year-old eligibility requirement is a good one, because we prefer to watch women gymnasts to seeing tiny tots doing clever tricks. We don't like it when a 16-year-old champion has to leave the sport because of the advent of puberty. We prefer the elegant artistry of an 18-year-old
But if you're going to have an age restriction in a sport, you'd better have the stomach to enforce it. The FIG falls woefully short in the guts department. Sadly, so does the IOC. In his desperation to be able to stand up and, with a straight face, say to his hosts that these Beijing Games were "the best Olympic Games ever," IOC President
A level playing field.
The visiting nations deserve one, too.