Olympic diving champion Tian Liang has found himself the center of national attention once again, after a proposal at the ongoing National People's Congress (NPC) called for his return to the national team.
The proposal to the Fifth Session of the Tenth NPC was made by lawyer Han Deyun and 20 representatives from Tian's native Chongqing Municipality.
Titled "National interest over everything: Tian Liang should be allowed to be a national team member and win glory for the country," it outlined problems in the selection system for national teams.
"The country has spent a big sum of money developing Olympic champions like Tian. No one has the authority to drop a good athlete," said Han in the proposal.
"The Olympics are approaching and China needs a great number of outstanding athletes. But according to the recent Olympic selection system, Tian's chances are getting slimmer."
The double Olympic 10m platform champion was dropped by the national team after the Athens Games for engaging in too many commercial activities. His refusal to apologize and the subsequent standoff with authorities appeared to spell a premature end to his hugely successful career.
But team manager Zhou Jihong revealed last week that Tian still has a chance to compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"The national team door is open to all good athletes. Fu Mingxia (formerly the country's leading women's diver) also had the experience of coming back to the national team and winning Olympic gold again after retirement. It is possible for Tian to be a member of the national team again. But he has to prove himself at the upcoming Olympic qualifying competitions," Zhou told Shanghai Morning Post.
There are five Olympic qualifying events for Chinese divers. As well as the world championships, they have to win as many points as possible at two national championships (2007 and 2008), one stage of the FINA Grand Prix, and next year's World Cup.
Tian is only eligible to compete in domestic competitions as a representative of his local team, but he will not compete at April's national diving championships, according to his agent Liu Tao.
"Tian is fit but he has not trained recently," Liu told The First.
"It's been months since he last trained. I do not think he is in good enough form to compete. He has made the decision not to take part in the national diving championships in April."
The Swimming Administrative Center moved quickly to defend their selection policy.
"Everyone who wants to get on the national team has to go through the qualifying process," Li Hua, director of the center, was quoted as saying on Sina.com. "There is no problem with the selection system. We have rules and regulations to ensure fair selection."
"Tian was sent back to the local team after violating national team rules.
"What he has done after leaving the national team is clear to everyone. He did not even take part in last year's national championships. I do not know why. It is impossible for us to select an athlete who has been out of action for a whole year."
Li said they will take a look at the proposal, but will not bend the rules just because Tian is a star.
"Winning a chance to compete at international competitions including the Olympics is not a result of popularity or reputation. It is about your ability."