From zero tolerance Covid strategy to zero tolerance to criticism at international sports events are some of the controversial decisions taken by the Chinese leadership in the last couple of years. The legislative assembly of China has now approved a revision to the country’s sports law that allows for countermeasures against countries, regions or organisations that “undermine” China at sports events.
The move which underscored the lengths President Xi Jinping’s government will go to protect China’s reputation abroad, will come into effect from Jan 1, 2023. Experts say that the move is a step towards implementing zero tolerance to insults at sports events. Stating that zero tolerance covid strategy has turned out to be unsustainable, expertssay that the new sports law is likely to be a damp squib.The move is likely to backfire and will further isolate Chinese athletes from foreign athletes at international sports events, they added.
Sports experts however said that they were not surprised at all.Days before the Beijing Olympics, China had issued a stern warning to foreign athletes stating that any athlete behaviour that is against the Olympic spirit or Chinese rules or laws will be subject to “certain punishment”. Yang Shu, the deputy director of international relations for the Beijing organising committee, had stated that athletes could face cancellation of accreditation or other “certain punishments”. There was ambiguity as to how China would use the law at Beijing Olympics as Chinese laws are very vague on the crimes they can use to prosecute people’s free speech.
The warning had sent shockwaves to the international sports community at that time. However, human rights activists had urged athletes at the Beijing Olympics to avoid criticizing China because they could be prosecuted.The International Olympic Committee had stated that athletes will have freedom of speech at Winter Games when speaking to journalists or posting on social media. Surprisingly, the IOC remained silent on how athletes who speak out, would be protected. The Olympic Charter rule that prohibits political protests at medal ceremonies also requires “applicable public law” to be followed.
China’s new sports law and warning at Beijing Olympics should be seen in the context.China’s treatment of its Muslim-majority Uyghur people and policies toward Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan raised on several platforms by US, European Countries and human rights organisations are among few issues that have brought criticism to China at the global level. The near-total disappearance from public view of tennis player PengShuai also brought wrath to China. The player wrote in a social media post that she was sexually assaulted by a former senior member of the ruling Communist Party.
Besides, some Olympic teams had serious concerns about data privacy and spying. So much so, some Olympic teams in Europe had also advised athletes not to take personal telephones and laptops to Beijing.
At Tokyo Olympics, some of Japan’s victorious Olympic athletes had been subjected to a storm of online abuse from Chinese nationalists following the defeat of their Team China opponents. For instance, Japan’s Daiki Hashimoto had won gold in the men’s all-around gymnastics final, edging out China’s Xiao Ruoteng by 0.4 points. As Japan celebrated19 year old Hashimoto’s victory, some in China questioned the fairness of the result and accused the judges of favouritism toward the hosts by allegedly inflating Hashimoto’s score on the vault.The anger, first set off on Chinese social media, soon spilled over to platforms typically censored in China. Chinese nationalist trolls circumvented the Great Firewall and descended on Hashimoto’s Instagram account, inundating his feed with angry comments and tagging him in insulting posts. Besides,Hashimoto, Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani, the Japanese table tennis duo who narrowly defeated the Chinese team to win the first-ever gold medal in mixed doubles, too were attacked.
Acts of protest at the Games are generally against the rules set by the International Olympic Committee but these incidents from Beijing and Tokyo Olympics arenot isolated ones. Instead they have become the cause of serious concern. That’s because incidents of increasing intolerance of protest, dissent or criticism in or against China are rising by the day. Numerous human rights activists and lawyers have been arrested and jailed, and last year the Chinese tennis star PengShuai, disappeared from public view for several weeks after she publicly accused a former senior official of sexual assault, sparking an international campaign over her well-being.
In China, cyber-attacks and harassment suggest that there is a rising tide of ultranationalism sweeping through social media that has silenced many of the country’s more liberal and moderate voices online. The nationalist sentiment against Japan has often flared due to ongoing tension between Japan and China.
Many Chinese netizenshave criticized the online abuse and called for an end to it, but they were also attacked. Reports suggested that Chinese nationalists have launched massive online trolling campaigns against those who they think are Beijing’s political foes, including Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. They also lashed out at Australian Olympic swimmer Mack Horton at the 2016 Rio Games, after he called China’s Sun Yang a “drug cheat.”
So, China’s new sports law which literally threatens foreign countries, athletes and organisations, is likely to cause a global controversy as no International sports body or other country will accept China’s autocratic sports rule.