In some professional sports circles, all it seems to do is to make athletes forget their noble principles is to wave a wad of dollars under their noses. Sure, they’re quick to put on a token knee or wear an armband to raise awareness for a good cause, but only those brave athletes who dare to sacrifice participation in high-value tournaments to warn oppressive governments of violations scandalous human rights.
Take the case of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Last month, she claimed on social media that she was sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister and main organizer of the upcoming Winter Olympics in China. Peng quickly disappeared. The government erased everything she posted anywhere online. In no time at all, it was as if she had never existed.
His disappearance has raised serious concerns in the tennis world, prompting top players to voice their public concerns. China responded by issuing a statement purportedly by Peng retracting its own claims. “I’m not missing, and I’m not safe. I just got a rest at home and everything is fine, ”said a post in her name. It was, of course, a work of pure fiction by his Chinese government captors.
The Women’s Tennis Association has boldly announced the suspension of all of its events in China and Hong Kong. “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has apparently been pressured to contradict his allegation of sexual assault,” said association president Steve Simon. He recognized the “financial ramifications” of this decision.
The association waited for the world of professional sport to align itself in solidarity and warn China. And the world of sport responded with a collective yawn.
The president of the International Tennis Federation, David Haggerty, feared that the withdrawal from China “punishes a billion people”. (Translation: punish Big Tennis bank accounts.) He insisted, of course, that the federation stand up for women’s rights and blah, blah, blah. But sorry, Peng, the tennis will continue.
The United States has announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics. Australia and Great Britain joined. But diplomats don’t compete with each other and don’t attract viewers around the world. Athletes do it.
One tactic favored by oppressive governments to rehabilitate their tarnished images is to engage in “sportswashing” – sponsoring expensive events to distract the global public from all this nasty stuff about human rights. Just ask Saudi Arabia. The Guardian reports that the kingdom has spent at least $ 1.5 billion on big events like golf championships, Formula 1 racing, tennis tournaments and horse races to help people forget the role of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Washington Post opinion writer Jamal Khashoggi.
Governments can try anything they want to clean up their image, but success depends on athletes wearing sunglasses to hide dollar signs in their eyes.
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