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An international event intended to showcase dragon boat racing's viability as an Olympic sport has been hit by allegations over the non-eligibility of some competitors.
The claims concern a leading local racing club that has added "ringers" to its squad at the last minute to improve its chances in the Club Crew World Championships which end today in Victoria Harbour.
A veteran member of the Hong Kong Island Paddle Club (HKIPC) alleges the team that the club entered into competition includes at least four crew who were not dues-paying members.
International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) rules require participants to have been paid-up members for at least six months and to have memberships in good standing at the time of the race. The informant, who requested to remain anonymous, said the new members only started training with the team a few months ago and one arrived in Hong Kong three weeks ago from Hawaii, where he lives.
"My club has not abided by the rules in the spirit of true and fair sportsmanship," the member said. "They have been cheating and have recruited non-HKIPC members to help them place or win races.
"These ringers have already helped the team get second place in the mixed A category and third in the senior mixed crew category. It's just totally unfair."
The informant provided documents that appear to confirm that four crew had not been paid-up club members for the required period.
Mike Haslam, executive vice-president of the IDBF, however, said that the local club had provided all the relevant proof that their team members were eligible and had complied with the rules.
HKIPC treasurer Stephen Staunton also rejected the allegations. "Everyone competing for our club is a paid-up member and eligible," he said.
But the informant said other members are also concerned about the club's tactics.
"It's such an arrogant attitude," the member said. "Other club members know about it but are afraid to speak up. This win-at-all-costs mentality is ruining our club."
As well as displaying Hong Kong's central role in dragon boat racing, the week-long event also aims to show the sport has broad enough appeal for inclusion in the Olympics.