Guest Post: Doping in Mongolian Wrestling

By Zorigtkhuu B

Last year, I wrote a brief blog post about some of the political issues surrounding Mongolian wrestling. For example, military titles, associational rivalry, and doping, etc. This year’s wrestling tournament has become a hot topic for the public because the new champion (Oyunbold) tested positive for some prohibited substances including stanozolol, meldonium, hydrochlorothiazide and chlorothiazide which are prohibited by Mongolian and international doping regulations (The World Anti-Doping Agency).

Most Mongolians had been very happy until Oyunbold’s test result was revealed by officials as he seemed like a worthy champion. For Oyunbold, he won the Naadam wrestling tournament for the second time. In 2015, he won the Naadam tournament for the first time, and had been given the second-highest title (Арслан) of Mongolian national wrestling. After 4 years, his achievement qualified him for the highest title (Аварга) and he has been named the 24th champion of Mongolian national wrestling since the 1921 people’s revolution. There have been a lot wrestlers who qualified or held the Champion title, of course, as some historical findings and rock paintings show that Mongolian wrestling started at least 7,000 years ago. However, there is not enough of a written record. In addition, Oyunbold was named the second youngest wrestler who reached the highest title “Champion” at the age of 26 years old (as of July 2019). Exactly 30 years ago, in 1989, his teacher, advisor, mentor, former presidential candidate and current MPP member of parliament, B Bat-Erdene was named the youngest wrestler who was awarded the highest title when he was only 25 years old. It is an admirable achievement that both the teacher and student are holding the highest title and named the first and second youngest champions.

Unfortunately, Oyunbold’s “champion” title might be revoked by Pres. Battulga. The president has the right to expropriate state titles as they are awarded by presidential decree. According to the 2003 Law of National Holiday (Үндэсний Их Баяр Наадмын Тухай Хууль), a doping test must be taken from all 16 wrestlers who qualified for the last round of the wrestling tournament (based on their achievement after the 5th round). For this year, the doping test result indicates that two of the 16 wrestlers’ tests are positive and one of these is the new champion.

Mongolian conspiracy at its finest

Oyunbold denies the test result.

He made a video for the public and said that some people were intentionally scheming behind this “doping” incident as he was told before “Naadam” that they were going to get him in trouble for doping. He denies using any product containing forbidden substances thus claiming that his urine sample was switched. The ultimate victim of this conspiracy, according to him, is not only him, but also his teacher, member of parliament, Bat-Erdene. He also says that the associational rivalry led by politicians is getting worse, as a result, he feels like he is falling victim to these rivalries.

In support of these claims,  Oyunbold’s teacher and mentor, Mr. Bat-Erdene repeatedly said that he believes in Oyunbold. He says that he was very surprised and find it absurd that the the test result is positive. In addition, he mentioned that he has  known Oyunbold since he was a little kid and he is now a powerful, talented and very well-trained wrestler, so there is no need for doping.

On the other hand, officials who were in charge of organizing the wrestling tournament and whole Naadam festival say that the result is impossible to be changed. The wrestlers enter the room where the urine sample is collected only in their underwear. The sample is  sealed by wrestlers and then collected by officials under surveillance cameras and this recording is archived. The doping test is delivered and examined in a Korean laboratory (one of the most trusted laboratories). In addition, some dominant wrestlers who have been taken the same test say that they do not believe that Oyunbold’s urine sample had been changed.

So, who actually threatened Oyunbold? Who changed his urine test? Has he been sacrificed because of his politician  teacher? Or, has he used prohibited substances and is pretending to be innocent? According to social media,  some wrestlers, specifically the wrestlers who belong to the western part of Mongolia, Uvs province are suspected/blamed that they might have organized it. Maybe, but, most likely not. Oyunbold also mentioned that it was because of the associational rivalry. Who knows, it might have been, but most likely not too.

Innocent until proven guilty?

In general, there is an increasing trend among Mongolians that if someone is in trouble, he or she tends to call for a press conference and they claim that “I am innocent”, “I am framed for political reasons”. For instance, a gentleman whose company’s operation cut hundreds of bushes alongside of the Tuul river in UB once announced that he is not guilty, people are trying to halt his company’s operation only because of political purposes. In the same spirit, whatever Oyunbold, Bat-Erdene, or the opposite association says, the Mongolian public needs to know the real facts. If Oyunbold’s test is positive for prohibited substances, his title must be revoked. If someone conspired and changed his urine sample, as Oyunbold said, this should be investigated.

The military title is not about the military title

Oyunbold was also given the military rank of lieutenant-colonel by the national police agency this year because he belongs to its sport club. At the same time last year, there was a discussion among the public about Batsuuri (who won last year’s Naadam tournament). He was blamed and criticized due to his military title which was given by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Surprisingly, the public was silent this year, not many people criticize either Oyunbold or the authority of the National Police Agency. As I emphasized in last year’s post, it proves that the military title is not about why to give the title,but which aimag’s wrestler gets it.

Also, Oyunbold was given a lot of expensive gifts and prizes  such as brand-new Nissan Patrol jeep, brand-new Lexus jeep, a 5 bedroom apartment and more by his sponsors and supporters. In the worst-case scenario, if Oyunbold is stripped off his “Champion” title, would the military title also be stripped off? How about those expensive gifts and prizes?

Finally, this quarrel is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath it could show how deeply the politics have corrupted traditional sports. Our president is the former judo wrestler, current Minister of mining once was the state titled (champion) wrestler, and some more members of the parliament who are from the grand sport of wrestling.  There are many reasons to keep the politics out of sports, but how about sportsmen out of politics? At least until the citizen makes informed decision as to which candidate would contribute more to policy making instead of their favorite wrestler? In addition, there are two associations which are led by politicians in basketball. Because of these two associations’ rivalry, once the team of Mongolia was not able to participate any international basketball tournament organized by International Basketball Federation (FIBA) between 2014 and 2018. Ideally, sports and politics should be separate.

About the author:

Bat-Erdene ZORIGTKHUU currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He graduated from MUST and is aiming to complete a Master’s degree at Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering of the University of British Columbia. Zorigtkhuu’ research will focus on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia.

Professional background: Zorigtkhuu worked for the biggest coal mining company (Energy-Resources) in Mongolia and an “International Medical Center (Intermed Hospital)” project that was jointly commissioned by MCS group in Mongolia


About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots
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