China’s defiant protests threaten Olympic boycotts

Written by by Tess Sanderson, CNN Olympic athletes don’t walk, they perform. But as “athlete Peng Shuai” heads to Rio de Janeiro in August, the Chinese tennis player will follow in a world of…

China's defiant protests threaten Olympic boycotts

Written by by Tess Sanderson, CNN

Olympic athletes don’t walk, they perform.

But as “athlete Peng Shuai” heads to Rio de Janeiro in August, the Chinese tennis player will follow in a world of non-athletes performing for him.

Shuai is the latest Chinese athlete to lead the growing boycott movement against Chinese sport.

The sportswoman’s appearance in the Olympic Games could, ironically, change the lives of her countrymen struggling for a place at international competitions.

For Chinese athletes, and all of us, their participation will necessarily mean a cost: a place at the bottom of the boat in global sporting tournaments and a much higher proportion of criticism.

Cameroon beat China 4-0 in the African Cup of Nations on June 11, 2016. Zhu Zhilin / AP

Some 35,000 China sports athletes have been on tour abroad on the mainland in recent years — a figure many have argued falls far short of its potential.

Success at overseas competitions, they say, is the only way to build an international sporting career.

This is the same reason Deng Fei walked the streets of London carrying a picture of his brother-in-law’s body while protesting against China’s treatment of the Uighur people in 2009.

Deng Lei’s death in detention became a rallying point for the wider Uighur population.

Three years later, China has altered its one-child policy but the economic crisis has exacerbated a government-made ethnic imbalance.

But questions remain over what effect they will have on sports training at home.

Rio by numbers

In March, the Chinese government named three major sports events for the future: the National Youth Games, Asian Games and the Olympic Games.

Selection criteria for the 2020 Youth Games, to be held in Nanjing, has encouraged cross-country athletes, increasing their quota to 25 from three.

Some have seen this as a kick in the teeth for talented elite athletes in fields such as gymnastics and sailing.

Others, such as 33-year-old gymnast Qiang Liu, a seven-time world champion and world record holder, are using this as a rallying point.

Qiang Liu, China’s most famous gymnast, during a demonstration to support athlete Peng Shuai. Kai Chen/Xinhua/via AP

“I’m writing to the Youth Games organizers about using the Chinese national quota for the Beijing National Youth Games in 2020 to allow athletes who are able to represent China to compete at the Youth Olympics, such as us gymnasts,” Liu told China’s CGTN.

“It is unnecessary to achieve medals at the Youth Olympics, and doping practices should not be allowed during the events.”

A former gymnast herself, Liu sits on China’s Athletes’ Representative Council, an advisory body of athletes designated by the government.

Rio by numbers

China’s top gymnasts have won 20 Olympic medals — more than any other country — but the table has tilted in recent years.

Great Britain won four gymnastic medals in Rio alone, including two golds, while Germany has won more Olympic medals (15) and more golds (5) than China in all sports combined.

For retired Olympic gymnast Chi Li, that’s a dangerous trend.

“(Gymnasts) could become too weak in one sport, too rich in another, too famous in another.

“I will never let that happen to me,” she told China’s

Shuai’s decision to boycott the Rio Games was largely overshadowed by a more traditional boycott, spearheaded by Tibetans, for a largely non-Chinese audience.

All images: pixeer / stock.xchng

Some 16 Tibetans have raised their fists in Paris and London to show their objection to China’s mass government development projects in their regions.

Tibetans living in India, home to the Dalai Lama, have launched an international campaign of peaceful protests against Chinese efforts to usurp their national lands.

And the exiled Tibetan community is mobilizing a sizable number of activists at sports events worldwide, including Shuai’s participation in the Paralympics Games in Rio this August.

More inclusive Olympics?

Miao Miao, an ethnic Tibetan activist, says that today’s Games, rather than a non-traditional one, have the capacity to change the world.

“The Olympics encourages people to be more tolerant, more critical. A game brings together such a wide range of people, the mix of humans, in one space.”

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