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China sports legend reviled over tell-all book

BEIJING — Yuan Weimin was the toast of China's sporting scene from the early 1980s, when he coached the women's gold medal volleyball team, to 2001, when as head of the Chinese Olympic committee, he helped bring home the biggest prize of all — Beijing's selection as host city for the 2008 Summer Games.

Now the 70-year-old retired cadre is being denounced by some as a liar and a traitor, accused of spilling state secrets and disrupting Chinese harmony.

The offense lies between the covers of his memoir, Yuan Weimin: Winds and Clouds of the World of Sports, published last month in Beijing.

In the book, so far only available in Chinese, Yuan writes about a deal he says was cut during a cloak-and-dagger meeting in a Geneva hotel room eight years ago in which China promised to support the candidacy of Belgian Jacques Rogge as head of the International Olympic Committee in return for his support of Beijing's Olympic bid.

It was all kept hush-hush because Rogge, as a European representative, couldn't publicly endorse Beijing when two European cities — Paris and Istanbul — were also contenders.

"We had a mutual understanding that we all understood clearly, even if it was not in writing," according to Yuan, who credited ancient Chinese military strategies for shaping the tactics.

Yuan drops other tidbits from the backroom discussions of China's Olympics bid, including how China sought to deflect criticism of its human rights record. He also writes of fears during the 2000 Sydney Olympics that Chinese athletes (no names here) would be disqualified for doping and of a women's volleyball coach arranging for the Chinese team to lose a match in the 2002 world championships to avoid facing a tougher opponent.

The book is making a splash in China because it is so unusual for anybody from the inner sanctum of the Chinese sporting world to break the usual code of silence.

The Chinese Association for the Promotion of Olympic Culture said last week it would file a civil lawsuit against Yuan's publisher, Beijing Fonghong Media Co., to prevent publication of any additional copies of the book beyond the 200,000 already in print in China.

"The book contains content which is far from the truth and … its publication can be considered as leaking of state secrets," the association said last week.

The Swiss-based International Olympic Committee also rejects Yuan's allegations.

The book's publication has stung many Chinese sports fans, one of whom wrote plaintively on a sports Internet bulletin board: "Even if some of the things he said were true, did he have to reveal them?"

Yuan has said he didn't want to cause controversy.

"The purpose of this book is to tell the truth. It's just about the truth and nothing more," he said.

China sports legend reviled over tell-all book 10/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 31, 2009 8:35pm]
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