The relationship between China and the sports leagues calls into question whether they truly believe the values they preach.
The case of the missing tennis player Peng Shuai, which went viral on social media, endangers relations between the WTA and China. Photo: IG-pengshuai_fanspage
LatinamericanPost| Juan Manuel Londoño
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Leer en español: ¿Cómo se acolita la tiranía?: China y las ligas deportivas
The case of the missing tennis player Peng Shuai, which went viral on social media, endangers relations between the WTA and China. The organization threatened to withdraw its tournaments from China if Shuai does not appear and the threat appears to have worked, as the tennis player had a video call with the IOC president. However, doubts remain about its safety.
The fast action of the WTA is admirable, putting the health and well-being of athletes above the considerable profit that comes from having a good relationship with the Chinese government. It is clear that many other sports leagues in the world prefer to maintain profitable relationships with authoritarian governments than to protect the values they claim to promote. The two most obvious cases have been seen this year in the NBA and the Premier League.
Basketball denounces one injustice and ignores another
In the past year, various NBA players spoke out against injustices against black people in their country in various ways and on various occasions. The league was united in its support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rejection of police violence (with minor exceptions).
However, when it comes to protesting against Chinese atrocities, few are the voices that are raised in the best basketball in the world. What's more, the few who do speak out are shut out or completely ignored by the league.
Take the example of Houston Rockets coach Daryl Morey, who last year tweeted a simple "Fight for freedom, support Hong Kong." That tweet resulted in the termination of a trade agreement the Rockets had with China and a public apology from the team's owner who distanced himself from the coach's comments. The NBA's communications chief and several players on the team also publicly apologized for that comment.
The league did its best to distance itself from such a minor criticism.
Additionally, Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter criticized the Chinese government this year, accusing them of abusing Uighur Muslims and calling Xi Jinping a "brutal and tyrannical dictator." As a result, the games of that team are not broadcast in China.
Kanter has urged Lebron James to speak out on injustices in China, but the star has remained silent (despite the fact that he did speak out during the Black Lives Matter protests).
Perhaps this silence is due to the fact that Nike, one of the NBA's biggest sponsors, is under suspicion of having taken advantage of the forced labor of Uighur Muslims. Or maybe it's due to the NBA's successful business relationship with China. For now, it is impossible to know.
Saudi Arabia and Newcastle United
The other high-profile case where a sports organization appears to accept money from an authoritarian regime with open hands occurred this year in the Premier League. Newcastle United was bought by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which is led by Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud Crown Prince of that country.
Without naming the multiple human rights violations Saudi Arabia is accused of, the prince has been accused of wanting to destabilize the Arab world, as well as the murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi. Even so, Newcastle received their money without any problem.