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China panics over meat-free diet

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Chinese coaches and officials are panicking that meat-free diets imposed on Olympic athletes outside their training camps are hampering their performances in the lead-up to the London Games.

Chinese athletes have been ordered to minimise the risk of accidental doping from clenbuterol-tainted meat this year by steering clear of pork, lamb and beef.

The coach of China's women's volleyball team, however, has blamed three weeks on a vegetarian diet for his team's four straight defeats at the recent world grand prix tournament in Ningbo.

"They have showed significant decline in their strength and fitness," Yu Juemin told Beijing News after China lost in three sets to the United States on Sunday.

"We dared not eat pork when we come out of our training camp for the tournament because we are afraid of clenbuterol."

Doping concerns

The ban on meat products came from the China's Sports Ministry this year and followed a warning from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) issued last November about contaminated meat in China and Mexico.

"WADA's message to athletes competing in these countries remains the same: eat only in restaurants and cafeterias that have been approved by your federation and/or event organiser," it read.

An aquatics sports official recently said the all 196 athletes in his charge had not eaten pork - a staple food for Chinese - for 40 days, and were surviving on fish and protein powder, state news agency Xinhua reported.

China has been plagued by tainted food scandals in recent years. Last August, a Chinese court sentenced seven people to jail and handed down a suspended death penalty for selling clenbuterol to pork farmers.

China has managed to clear up its once poor reputation for doping in sport in recent years and, given the WADA warning, it is unlikely athletes will risk eating meat outside their training bases.

One patriotic pig farmer in Jiangsu province thinks his meat may be the answer as China prepares to try and match their medal table-topping performance in Beijing in 2008.

Hearing about the ban earlier this year, Liu Qingya donated three tonnes of untainted pork to his country's athletes.

"My pork is free from clenbuterol. It tastes as fresh as those in the 1960s," Liu told Reuters by telephone.

"I only feed my pigs with corn, soybeans and wheat brans," he added.

"I am happy to donate my pigs to athletes who bring honour to our country."

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