The Sports World Received a Hint Last Week of a Changing Dynamic
This is another event in a series that depicts the Chinese government’s crackdown on athletes and sports associations that don’t toe the party line in the global context. The WTA has issued a statement threatening to stop all business with China if Peng Shuai’s safety is not guaranteed. Peng, who is currently competing in the WTA Finals in Singapore, was recently detained by Chinese authorities and accused of violating gambling laws.
The WTA has worked aggressively over the past decade to establish a foothold in China but is not ready to talk any business with China unless Peng’s safety can be guaranteed. This is a significant blow to China’s efforts to promote sports, and it will be interesting to see how the government responds.
Since Peng Shuai is one of China’s most successful athletes, her detention has caused an outcry among tennis fans worldwide. While many call for the government to release Peng and ensure her safety, others warn that this might escalate tensions between China and the Western world again. No one knows for sure what will happen moving forwards, but it’s clear that the Peng Shuai case is far from over.
Peng Shuai’s incident is not the first time China has been involved in sports and politics. Recently the Chinese government threatened the NBA with repercussions after a Houston Rockets executive voiced support for Hong Kong protesters. This is in addition to the recent issues with Canadian detainees and Meng Wanzhou, the owner of Huawei’s daughter.
Why is China behaving like this?
While it may be easy to paint China as the bad guy in all of these situations, it’s important to remember that they are just reacting to highly political actions taken by sports associations that have no business entering politics. China does not want to ruin its image as a welcoming place that embraces all sports, but neither does it want to compromise on its foreign policy.
But businesses and sports associations are unwilling to follow China’s style of turning a blind eye to politics. Fans hold their sports team accountable for what they represent and who they associate themselves with. Peng Shuai is a victim in all of this, and the WTA should do everything in its power to ensure her safety.
The occurrences where sports have become entangled with Chinese politics have become unmistakably familiar. Consider the mysterious case of German footballer Mesut Ozil, who publicly voiced concerns for Chinese citizen rights. Soon after, he was benched from Arsenal Fc’s team and has since retired from the German national team.
While Ozil’s case was extreme, it shows that Chinese politics can significantly impact sports. Associations don’t want to jeopardize their relationships with China, nor do they want to deal with any political backlash from fans. In reality, China’s business is too big to lose. Not only do they offer hefty sums for broadcasting and marketing rights, but their audiences are also massive sources of revenue for sports teams.
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