Corporal punishment and bullying rampant in Chinese sports teams

April 19, 2011Jing GaoOne Comment, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From Youth Daily

The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has decided to temporarily suspend Fan Bin, the head coach of China’s Under-19 national basketball team, following claims by players that they have been subjected to intolerable abuse. Thirteen national junior players signed on a letter to the Chinese basketball association, asking for Fan’s stepdown, Guangzhou Daily reported Sunday (Apr. 10).

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Fan Bin (right), the head coach of China's Under-19 basketball team, has been suspended following complaints from players. (Photo/CFP)

“Head coach Fan Bin has given us verbal insults and beating time and again in the past three years which we can no longer bear,” read the letter. “We are here to protest and ask for a change of head coach.”

Corporal punishment from coaches may be the most entrenched unwritten rules in Chinese sports arenas. “Well-meant whipping” is part of the East Asian culture. In fact, most athletes are very tolerant. As besides coping with vituperation, slapping and beating from their coaches, they also have to get accustomed to the “pecking order,” that is, older athletes can get away with bullying younger and little ones. (Read Chinese teens committed suicide because of corporal punishment at school)

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Little gymnasts training

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A young table tennis player: “I believe every Chinese athlete has been punished physically; no one managed to escape.”

When I was in fifth grade, as long as my training was not good or correct, I would be whipped by coaches at the youth sports school with a duster. On my arms, on my buttocks. If the whippings were vicious, the swelling and bruises would last several days. What is called “not good or correct?” Coaches always benchmark us against standards applied on national teams. So one’s training is never good or correct, no matter how you have tried. I certainly didn’t like to take a beating. But back then, I had no objection to it, and I kept blaming myself, “My performance is indeed no good. How can coaches be satisfied?”

After I entered a team at 12, I still took beatings. Once I lost a game, I flung the paddle and kicked the table out of short temper. This is no small deal. This is called “obnoxious style of work” and a technical foul! The coach was furious. He dragged me to a corner where there was no one else, and gave me dozens of slaps in the face dozens of times. My face swelled, and the swelling didn’t subside until days later. What was worse, I had to participate in another game the next day. My eyes became two slits from the swelling. I could barely see the ball…I think the slaps have toughened me. Even until this day, I won’t flinch no matter what difficulty I encounter. I don’t hate that coach. He was in the wrong to beat me, but he was being fulfilling his duty.

It means a coach is strict if he physically punishes the athletes. He tends to be more specific and picky when it comes to techniques. However, performance is not necessarily proportional to corporal punishment. Fan Bin was wrong to try to manage the Under-19 junior basketball players the same way he would manage little kids. Why can’t he realize that, those players are so grown-up; they have mature bodies and ways of thinking; he is lucky he hasn’t got a good lesson from the players after he scolded and beat them. Faced with players at 18, a coach should turn himself into a friend. Just sit down and talk if there is any problem. It doesn’t work if you play the hardballs.

Young swimmer: “I wanted to kill the coach on several occasions.”

I am okay with taking a beating, as if it were a game. Before the age of 15, I often snuck out of the team at noon and midnight into internet cafés. When the coach found out, he either slapped me or kicked me. I thought it was for fun. I sustained injuries sometimes, but they were not as serious as swelling others got. I thought I was made of something special, the kind that withstands beatings.

I didn’t listen to the coach or like to train hard back then. Even though the coach said, “Going out is absolutely not allowed,” I treated it as a whiff of wind past my ears. The coach said it was for my good. Actually people all have selfish desires. I know he thought I was an eyesore. Beating me was perhaps purely for venting. Once, the coach caught me playing computer games in an internet café. He said to me, “I’ll let you pick: either I give you a beating, or I call your father.” I picked the former.

I was very rebellious at around 16. I wanted to kill the coach in his 40s on several occasions, because he insulted my family. A person has a soul. An insult has its context. Every time he vituperated me and my family with abusive tone, I wanted to kill him. Once, the entire team assembled. The coach scolded me with very unsavory words. The team all laughed. I responded with a sneer. Then I stared at him, and soon in my brain I pictured him lying in blood. Later I said to myself, forget it; don’t do it, at least for now.

I’ve heard about Fan Bin being kicked out by basketball players. I am thinking: it is normal if one or two team members do not like you. It must be your problem if all team members hate you.

Coaches are not the only ones who beat people.

“The big bullying the small is our team’s tradition. Even Yao Ming (professional basketball player in NBA’s Houston Rocket) and Liu Xiang (Olympic Gold medalist hurdler) were bullied when they were little,” Wang Jian said casually, “My teammates and I wash running shoes, do laundry, run errands for older teammates. Sometimes we take beatings. We almost never resisted.” Liu Gang was an exception. He put up a desperate fight with a senior five years older. But the price of the fight was big. 13-year-old Liu Gang’s ear drums were ruptured by his 18-year-old senior.

Wang Jian was chosen into the city’s training team at 14, he was psychologically prepared. Therefore, when a senior punched him without any excuse, the only thought he had was, “It was nothing. Finally I have taken this one.” In fact the beating was rather serious. His bruises were there until quite a few days later.

From then on, Wang Jian began running errands, doing laundry, airing clothes and washing running shoes for the senior who beat him. The idea of resisting never occurred to him. “I was 150 cm (5’) tall. He was 185 cm (6’1”). How would I resist?” Eight months later, Wang Jian became friends with the senior, and the grudge against him due to the blow at the encounter had gone. Wang said, “I don’t hate him. But every time I felt bad at disobeying the directive he gave me, I felt very uncomfortable deep down.”

When Zhou Da got into his sports team at 13, he was frightened by the hostile vibe there. Teammates were antagonistic to one another. Competition was fierce and cruel. A tiny friction could turn into a brutal fight. A 15-year-old senior bossed Zhou Da around. When he was moody, he took it out on Zhou Da. For a whole year, Zhou stomached it. “The body didn’t hurt much when it had to take a few kicks and punches. The heart hurt. That year left deep scar on my heart.”

How parents view the unwritten rule of corporal punishment

Several parents interviewed expressed their understanding of coaches’ “reasonable” physical punishment. Some even thought that if a coach bothers to scold and beat a child, it says he cares about the child. They didn’t know their acquiescence and connivance has helped corporal punishment take roots in China’s sports culture. Not until serious consequences ensue will parents back their kids and either break a coach’s head or take him to court.

A parent in Shanghai: “It’s for kids’ good.”

“Each kid on the team is more or less fixed by Genbao. A few punches and kicks is no biggie. Genbao will even curse their mothers when he is really upset. Kids’ moms are very open-minded. They treat it as his tags. Genbao is simply exasperated at their failure to make good. His corporal punishment is well-meant,” Ms. Chen said. Chen’s nephew plays soccer on Shanghai Dongya Football Club where Xu Genbao is the coach and chairman.

In July 2009, Xu Genbao gave a young soccer player two slaps on the cheeks in front of many people. He said, “I just wanted to punch him in public. Why do you stop me? Can they remember it in their brains if I don’t beat them?” According to Ms. Chen, since then, Xu Genbao hadn’t beat a kid until this April.

“Genbao has been raising these kids for more than a decade. How much energy he has put into it? We and Genbao know one another’s temper. Genbao was simply angry that iron cannot be turned into steel. A bitter medicine cures the disease. What’s more, he is undergoing a lot of stress. He needs to vent,” Ms. Chen said.

Ms. Chan was a track-and-field athlete when she was young. She believes kids nowadays are much more blessed than her contemporaries. “Back then, if we didn’t do well in push-ups, the coach caned our buttocks with bamboo.”

Most kids on Dongya team are single children and thus treasured at home. If Xu Genbao gives them a lesson, they sometimes feel humiliated. Ms. Chen has always been telling her nephew, “Even if you don’t treat your coach as your parent, you should treat him as your best friend. When the coach scolds you or beats you, you should take it with Ah Q mentality (Jing: stems from novelist Lu Xun’s character Ah Q, who is famous for “spiritual victories”, or self-deception even when faced with extreme defeat or humiliation) and not fight back. You should also engage in introspection. Why does the coach beat you? It’s easy to shed light on others with your flashlight. It’s hard to look into a mirror at yourself.”

Ms. Xu has a similar thought, “Who as a parent doesn’t feel terrible on seeing his or her own child is physically punished? But a coach’s real intention is to push them to work hard. Only when a coach thinks a kid is of great potential will the coach correct his mistakes. He will not bother to scold or beat children who can only serve as foils. I would rather my child be beaten and scolded than end up nothing.”

When parents can take it no more

In June 2005, dozens of players on Shanghai’s female table tennis team left the training base together. Parents asked the coach for their kids’ whereabouts. The two sides came into sharp conflict and the coach, Gui Zhenqi, had her head injured and had to get a few stitches. Parents said they did it because Gui Zhenqi, who was known as “Devil Head Coach,” trained those young players “the devil’s way.”

The heaviest price China’s sports-related corporal punishment has paid in recent years is a 14-year-old’s death. In July 2009, young soccer player Mu Shihao asked his coach Lin Lin, “Coach Lin, what time do we start training tomorrow?” “Mu Shihao, come over!” Then Lin Lin kicked his chest out of blue. Mu Shihao fell onto the ground on the back of his head. Lin Lin kicked him twice more and left. Mu Shihao went unconscious and never open his eyes again.

In August 2009, Lin Lin knelt down to Mu Shihao’s family and expressed his remorse. He was not forgiven. In September 2010, he was sentenced to three years in prison for manslaughter. The verdict disappointed Mu Shihao’s family greatly. They believe what Lin Lin did to Mu Shihao was intentional infliction of harm.

They talk to the media and plea to the associations.

“Loving flog” and “well-meant whipping” is tolerated in East Asian sports. At the end of 2009, A Taiwanese baseball coach kept flogging players’ buttocks with a bat. Their imploration in unison alternated with the sound of bat striking their bodies. A player secretly videotaped the entire process with a cellphone. Parents who saw the video went to the media in indignation.

Kim Dong-Sung, an Olympic gold medalist from South Korea who owns and operates a thriving club in northern Virginia known as DS Speedskating, used hockey sticks, skate-blade guards, hammers, hand timers and other implements to strike skaters on the buttocks, stomach and hands, according to six skaters quoted by Washington Post who said they were victims of abuse or witnesses to it.

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