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Political Editors / November 24, 2021

In Brief: Get U.S. Sports Out of China

In the wake of a missing Chinese tennis star, the time is ripe for a real stand.

Our Emmy Griffin just yesterday told the story of missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared soon after accusing a Chinese Communist Party Poobah of sexual misconduct. While the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has made strong statements regarding this situation, other major American sports leagues have for too long remained too compliant when it comes to China … and all the money those leagues make there.

The editors of National Review issue a challenge:

The case of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star who went missing, should be a clarion call to the sports world to take a stand against the oppressive Chinese government.

Sure, the Chinese government has staged photos and videos and social media posts to “prove” that Peng is “safe and well,” but everyone knows the truth. And other countries and sports leagues have a real opportunity.

As admirable as the stance taken by the WTA is, it is likely not enough. There needs to be a broader campaign of pressure by the organized sports world against China.

The most dramatic step, of course, would be a decision to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, which never should have been selected to host the games in the first place. As we wrote last year, “This magazine has long been appalled that Beijing is scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. As a rule, the Olympics should not be held in police states.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Enes Kanter, the Boston Celtics center who has been taking a bold stand against China’s enslavement of the Uyghurs, has made a passionate case in favor of a total boycott. This is a fraught issue, since athletes who have trained for years for the Olympics would miss out on their chance to compete, through no fault of their own. When the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, over 200 of the 466 U.S. Olympic athletes didn’t make it onto the 1984 team. While a hard boycott is our preference, President Biden should at the very least announce a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Olympics, which he so far has merely said he is considering.

Beyond that, any U.S. sports leagues with business interests in China should join in solidarity with women’s tennis and also threaten to pull out of the totalitarian country. This includes, most prominently, the NBA, which has disgracefully allowed its multibillion-dollar business interests in China to get in the way of speaking out on human rights. Even worse, in 2019, the NBA infamously apologized to China when Daryl Morey, then the Houston Rockets general manager, tweeted, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” While the NBA has found the time to condemn “vigilantism” following the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict and weigh in on every other hot-button issue in the U.S., it has not taken a stand on behalf of Peng, presumably out of fear of financial repercussions. They have an opportunity to redeem the league here by showing even the NBA has its limits. While not as extensively entangled, both the MLB and NFL have established business ties to China, and they should also reconsider.

Unlike an Olympic boycott, were major U.S. sports leagues to pull out of China, it would make no difference to the game or the athletes. Players would still be able to compete and earn plenty of money in the U.S. and elsewhere. LeBron James, for instance, can still pursue his eleventh appearance in an NBA finals and all sorts of endorsement deals even if his league stops buck-raking in China, with the GOAT happily toeing the company line.

This is all about as likely as Kamala Harris suddenly becoming likable. Nevertheless, NR concludes:

There has never been any doubt what the Chinese regime is, but the Peng case brings it home in a personal and powerful way. No one should be going out of his way to give this regime propaganda victories or bending to its will.

National Review subscribers can read the whole thing here.

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