Can law revision fully address issues related to Naadam?
- By Misheel Lkhasuren -
- May 27,2022
The National Naadam Festival is an expression of nomadic culture, an honorable celebration of national independence, and an outstanding combination of arts and sports. Some activities of the festival are governed by the Law on National Naadam Festival (Naadam Law). The government developed the draft revision of the law to improve the legal framework for organizing the festival, specify the responsibilities and rights of wrestlers, horse trainers and archers, and ensure fair competition by introducing an international mechanism on doping offenses and appropriate penalties.
Since the enactment of the law on June 19, 2003, a total of 54 articles, sections and provisions have been amended in duplicate. This time, several amendments and new regulations have been proposed. In particular, Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Kh.Nyambaatar highlighted that national sports should be turned into professional sports. In other words, bill initiators aim to create a legal environment to enforce the requirements and standards of professional sports in national sports. To do so, the government proposed to consider national wrestling as a sport.
Although the current draft law includes advanced provisions and new regulations, there is no comprehensive solution to issues such as the rights of child jockeys and the organization of horse races. In any case, the relevant standing committees are currently reviewing the bill, as Parliament has supported its discussion at its session.
‘LOCAL LABORATORIES SHOULD CONDUCT DOPING TESTS’
In recent years, there have been a number of cases of doping in wrestling, disputes over whether to strip state titles, and litigation. Therefore, the doping issue needs to be addressed through strict legal regulations.
The Naadam Law provides for a two-year ban or the revocation of new titles for doping offenses. However, wrestlers who were confirmed for doping in the past have been subject to different penalties. In 2002, for instance, notable wrestler A.Sukhbat was found guilty of doping and the festival organizing committee decided to strip him of his darkhan avarga title. However, he filed a lawsuit against the doping allegations and the court ruled in his favor, returning his title. But some wrestlers’ titles have been revoked over doping although they claimed otherwise.
Moreover, the suspension period for doping offenders varied. B.Sugarjargal was banned from wrestling for six months, while others were suspended for up to two years.
The justice minister explained that the law is not in line with international doping standards and does not clearly define the rules and regulations to be followed. In addition, decisions of the Naadam Organizing Committee and sub-committees are frequently annulled by the court, Minister Kh.Nyambaatar said at the parliamentary plenary session.
Cabinet believes that the prohibition of doping and penalties for its use have been ineffective and that coaches or doctors who recommend doping should be held accountable as well. In connection with this, Clause 1 of Article 14.10, which states that national wrestling and archery coaches must not recommend doping, has been added to the bill. However, there are no penalties specified for violating this regulation.
In addition, Minister Kh.Nyambaatar pointed out that in accordance with the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Mongolia should conduct doping tests in its accredited laboratories. Domestic doping tests may have the advantage of saving time and money, but there are concerns that wrestlers may affect test results, he added.
INEFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF CHILD JOCKEYS
One of the biggest issues of Naadam is undoubtedly the rights of child jockeys. More than 10,000 children participate in 395 horse races across the country during Naadam. Many parents “rent out” their kids to compete as jockeys so they can earn a wage and send it to their families. But this tradition faces criticism for putting children at risk and international organizations called for an end to the “exploitation” of vulnerable children, many of whom miss school to prepare for races and work long hours for low wages at large stables.
In 2017 alone, about 600 child jockeys were thrown off from their horses and 169 were injured seriously and two were killed, according to the National Trauma and Orthopedic Research Center. Unfortunately, the number of casualties isn’t enough for decision-makers to start a widespread change in this tradition.
The minimum age for a jockey is just seven, though authorities have struggled to enforce that. In specific, some as young as five still enter races in rural areas. Moreover, despite rules mandating children wear a helmet during races, in rural Naadam festivals, many child jockeys go without or only wear helmets on the day of a race. This shows that major reforms are needed to protect children’s rights.
Bill initiators say that as a national cultural heritage, the National Naadam Festival should be traditionally preserved. Therefore, there is an urgent need to preserve the heritage without violating the rights of child jockeys, they explain.
It is unfortunate that politicians are talking about preserving traditions while many children are being physically harmed and killed for the “entertainment” of adults, experts noted. Apparently, the new draft law does not intend to change the minimum age for jockeys.
The new provision in the bill is just about insurance. More specifically, child jockeys must get one-year accident insurance for horse racing and training. Article 10.3 of the bill also stipulates that the state central administrative body in charge of child and family development must monitor whether child jockeys are insured and whether the protective clothing and equipment that meets the standard requirements are used.
During the parliamentary plenary session, some lawmakers suggested raising the age requirement from seven to nine. However, child rights groups want better safety standards to be enforced and for the minimum age of jockeys to be raised to 18.
IS IT NECESSARY TO DISCUSS HORSE HEIGHTS?
Every year, there is a dispute over the exclusion of Mongolian horses from Naadam horse races and the inclusion of hybrid horses in races. Current laws and regulations exclude hybrid horses from the race on the basis of height at the withers, breed, and appearance.
According to Justice Minister Kh.Nyambaatar, there are three standards for horses in Mongolia: breeding, height at the withers, and a combination of the two.
The minister stressed that breeding standards are problematic and experts believe that in the future, it is necessary to test the blood of Mongolian horses, count the genome sequences and approve relevant standards. Until then, horses will be measured by their height at withers for race eligibility, the government proposed.
Minister Kh.Nyambaatar informed that the height at horses’ withers has been studied and that if the law is passed, it will have a device that identifies the breed instantly. But some lawmakers have been critical of this regulation. Parliamentarian B.Enkhbayar, in particular, criticized, “Problems have arisen since politicians became involved in Naadam. Parliament is just talking about measuring horse heights.”
Of course, it is important to legislate the issue of hybrid horses, but the most essential issues seem to have been omitted.
KNUCKLE-BONE SHOOTING TO BE REGULATED BY LAW
Naadam is celebrated every year from July 11 to 13 across the country and focuses on three traditional games: horseracing, wrestling and archery. The Law on National Naadam Festival does not regulate the organization of the national knuckle-bone shooting, but since 1998, it has been organized as the fourth type of national game and regulated by its own rules.
Knuckle-bone shooting is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive cultural heritages of Mongolia that has been passed down for generations. It provides a favorable environment for social skills in which each member contributes to the team’s success, social well-being and development by supporting and learning from others.
Therefore, bill initiators view that it is necessary to create a legal regulation to grant state titles and clarify players’ rights and responsibilities as there is an increase in the number of people interested in this game.
Particularly, the number of knuckle-bone shooters has reached more than 10,000, and about 1,000 players from 90 to 130 teams have participated in four national festivals organized in the last five years, according to the government.
During the Naadam, some wrestlers or horse trainers often engage in unethical acts that cause public frustration and resentment, disagree traditions and heritage, and engage in inappropriate actions and activities aimed at disrupting unity. In order to stop this, the government decided to establish a legal framework that provides for ethical liability.
In addition to the responsibilities set out in the Law on Infringements, the draft law stipulates that the Naadam Organizing Commission will take the following measures for ethical violations:
• To exclude offenders from participating in national competitions
• Not to award prizes
• To strip state titles
However, the fact that the bill does not specify in which cases these measures are to be taken may lead to impunity for those who commit an ethical violation.
URBAN AND RURAL FESTIVALS TO BE HELD ON SAME DAY
The draft revision of the Law on National Naadam Festival states that both urban and rural Naadam festivals should be held on the same date. Lawmakers believe that this will regulate the participation of athletes in urban and rural competitions and title events.
For instance, because soums and provinces hold their Naadam competitions on different days, wrestlers often go to different localities to compete for a state title.
But in the event of a state of emergency or amid a pandemic, local governors will set a date for competitions in accordance with the bill.
Judging by the new provisions of the law, lawmakers are keen on preserving traditions and culture, but they need to be bold in making new regulations and prioritizing putting human rights. In any case, experts believe that the new law can solve some of the problems facing Naadam.