Sport is indifferent to the Uyghur genocide: Warriors investor said the quiet part out loud | China

Jhe US State Department has described the Uyghur human rights issue as genocide and the largest detention of an ethno-religious community since World War II. And yet, to hear a big professional sports owner put it, “no one cares.”

Chamath Palihapitiya, a billionaire investor in the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, used the latest episode of his All-In podcast to weigh in, dismissing the Uyghur crisis as “a very hard and ugly truth” that is “below my line “. When his co-host David Sacks retorted that the Uyghurs were a major, even urgent concern, Palihapitiya went deeper: “If you ask me, do I care about one segment of a class of people in another country ? Only when we can take care of ourselves will I give them priority over us.

There is no doubt that Palihapitiya’s comments were insensitive, selfish and confirmed popular suspicions about how the 1% view the world. But they were also an honest reflection of the NBA’s attitude toward the Uyghur genocide and China more generally.

As Palihapitiya’s soundbite went viral over the weekend, the Warriors were quick to downplay his role on the team. “As a limited investor who does not have day-to-day operational duties with the Warriors, Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak for our franchise, and his views certainly do not reflect those of our organization,” the team said. in a press release. Monday. Hours later, Palihapitiya circulated his own statement, acknowledging that “I seem to lack empathy” as he listened to his comments again.

For the past seven years, Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party has advanced policies targeting the Turkish Uyghur Muslim minority in the western Xinjiang region, marginalizing them to the brink of extinction. At least 1 million Uyghurs are believed to have been arbitrarily detained in government internment camps. At more than 380 black government sites, Uyghurs were subjected to psychological indoctrination and forced sterilization, while those detained were forced to make clothes, face masks and other products.

Since the Washington Bullets made history in August 1979 as the first American professional sports team to be invited to China following a relaxation in diplomatic relations, the NBA has owned the domestic lane in the market for sports world’s most coveted growth.

State media broadcast NBA games in the 1980s, fueling the game’s popularity. The worldwide success of the 1992 US Olympic team, AKA The Dream Team, inspired a generation of Chinese gamers.

In 2002, the Houston Rockets selected Shanghai native Yao Ming as their first draft pick, marking the first time an international player had been selected that high without having previously played at an American college. And while China hasn’t produced many NBA-caliber players aside from Ming, the 2016 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee who chairs the Chinese Basketball Association, Stephon Marbury, Gilbert Arenas, Steve Francis and many others, the Americans enjoyed successful second acts in China after their NBA career was over.

This two-decade cultural exchange laid the foundation for the NBA’s Chinese operation, which has been valued at more than $5 billion. But as the league’s interests in China have deepened, it has struggled to distinguish between respecting the free speech rights of its key stakeholders and appeasement of its sensitive Chinese partners.

Chamath Palihapitiya is a billionaire investor in the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Three years ago, Daryl Morey of the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the league’s most respected general managers, tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests. The post cost him his position with the Houston Rockets and resulted in a temporary ban from NBA games on state television – an estimated $400 million hit. When LeBron James took the company’s line and said Morey was ‘not really aware of the situation’, his standing in China took a major hit and Hong Kongers again took to the streets. to protest. him.

Last fall, Chinese television blocked a Boston Celtics game after center Enes Kaenter Freedom, a Swiss-born Turkish Muslim who has been a vocal critic of the CCP, attacked the state’s record on human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

In 2020, allegations of child abuse surfaced at NBA-backed and CCP-run basketball academies, including one in Xinjiang. And although the NBA shut down the Xinjiang academy following the allegations, its business relationship with China has not fundamentally changed.

The Guardian emailed the league for a statement on Palihapitiya; he did not answer.

Given the NBA’s efforts to portray itself as a league more sensitive to injustice than others – two years ago the Milwaukee Bucks went on a weekend sports strike after Jacob’s shooting Blake, for example – some critics, including Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson claimed the NBA only cared about social justice when it wasn’t bad for business.

They’re right. But where they lose is in trying to hold black players, coaches and team leaders to account who prioritize fighting racism in America (something they experience in their daily lives) instead than to a genocide on the other side of the world. If anyone should take responsibility, it’s Silver and the league owners for putting profits before human cost.

It’s not just the NBA. Late last year, tennis pro Peng Shuai mysteriously disappeared after making sexual assault allegations against a Communist Party leader. This issue has yet to be fully resolved, but only the WTA has ceased operations in China in response; other leagues have not terminated relations with China out of solidarity. Beijing is weeks away from hosting the Winter Olympics and in December the Biden administration cited “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity…and other human rights abuses,” as the reason why they would not send a government delegation to the Games. But the boycott has been denounced by World Athletics chairman Sebastian Coe as ‘a hollow, meaningless and damaging gesture’ – a stance which may have something to do with the two Diamond League athletics events. which are planned on Chinese soil this summer.

That’s why it’s so surprising that Palihapitiya is the one to voice the sports world’s apathy towards Uyghurs. Until he opened his mouth, few NBA fans knew him. A founding member of Facebook’s leadership team, Palihapitiya helped lead the portal’s transformation into a $100 billion business — only to come to regret the effort. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying the way society works,” he told a Stanford business school audience in 2017.

Last January, Palihapitiya announced plans to challenge incumbent Gavin Newsom in the California gubernatorial recall election, promising to cut state taxes from 16% to zero if elected. But he pulled out less than a month later.

Palihapitiya, whose family fled Sri Lanka to Canada when he was a child, acknowledged the story in his clarifying statement on Monday. “As a refugee, my family fled a country with its own human rights issues, so this is something that is part and parcel of my lived experience,” he wrote. “To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States or elsewhere. Complete stop.”

But by then, there was no denying how the sports leagues really felt about the sport’s broader attitude toward Uyghurs and the issue of civil rights in China. Not after Palihapitiya said the quiet part out loud.

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