The West is using hooligan tactics to politicize sport amid Ukraine crisis

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Torch bearers Dinigeer Yilamujiang (left) and Zhao Jiawen place the torch in the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the National Stadium in Beijing, capital of China, on February 4, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

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“Go on!” This is how Chinese tennis player Zhang Shuai hit back at the public who disturbed her during the Lyon Open final on Sunday afternoon.

She eventually staged a comeback win to clinch her third career title under various pressures. Was it difficult to claim this victory? Her opponent was Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine. Yastremska and her younger sister left Ukraine and went to Lyon to play. When she appeared, she had a Ukrainian flag draped around her shoulders.

Against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis, the Western crowd naturally supported and sympathized with this Ukrainian player, while Zhang had to endure boos, whistles and indifference from the referee before declaring victory.

This is the latest manifestation of the politicization of sport in the West, even going as far as hooliganism. The cold war mentality has never ceased in the West, but has affected almost all areas such as society, culture and sports. Western countries led by the United States have exploited sport as a tool to undermine other countries, including China and Russia. From the boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup in Russia, to the series of political maneuvers surrounding the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the West has hysterically staged the game of the politicization of sport one after another, an effort to coordinate with its strategic containment campaign against China and Russia.

In the last Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the West offered the best explanation of how freedom, art and sport are confined by borders. US social media platforms such as Facebook have blocked Russian media RT and Sputnik in Europe to comply with EU sanctions. Performances by Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko have been canceled by US organisations. Even trees and cats have fallen victim to Western sanctions against Russia.

At Sunday’s Lyon Open, Western audiences shattered sports fairness through uncivilized means. The West disguises itself as someone honest and kind who stands at the highest point of morality and is strict with the rules. Nonetheless, what can’t be hidden is his hooligan-style villainy and superficiality. Worse, such meanness and superficiality become normal.

Zhang Tengjun, deputy director of the Department of Asia-Pacific Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that whether a sports competition is fair or not is not important to the West; sport has become a platform where Westerners brag about their political position, which reveals Western hypocrisy and double standards.

“For a long time, Western countries have played a leading role in sports. They have signaled to non-Western countries that sports competitions should be conducted fairly and not be disturbed by external factors. But now, they are breaking their own rules,” Zhang said.

The intolerance of Westerners towards freedom without borders, art and sport shows that they do not correspond to the international prestige they once enjoyed. The West’s declining capacity falls short of its desire to play a greater role in regional crises and great power disputes. The West no longer has the power of speech it once had, and its political cries no longer carry much weight.

It’s not hard to imagine what a political frenzy it would bring to the Western crowd had Zhang failed to win. During her performance, this Chinese athlete freed herself from political disturbances and let the spirit of sport play. It showcases Chinese-style confidence and calm, which is the strongest slap in the face against the West’s hooligan politics.

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