Two tennis stars have been players in rather high-profile events involving authoritarian governments lately. The fact that they’ve received roughly equivalent attention worldwide is both telling and alarming, considering the vast differences between their cases — and the fact that, while Western media criticize one government for its abuses, they’ve been lauding the other.
In November, Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared after using social media to accuse a senior CCP official of sexual assault. After criticism from the Women’s Tennis Association and other global voices, China sent the WTA an email supposedly from Peng insisting “everything is fine.”
Shortly afterward, Chinese state media released footage of Peng, and had the CCP-friendly International Olympic Committee publish a still photo of what was supposedly a video conference with Peng. A month later, the tennis star denied ever making the allegations of sexual assault, raising more questions about her freedom to communicate to the world without CCP censorship.
“I have never spoken or written about anyone sexually assaulting me,” she said, adding that she has “always been free.”
Peng Shuai’s disappearance rightly prompted backlash around the globe, including the U.S. decision to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics next month. Corporate media outlets participated in this outrage, to their credit.
But another tennis star “scandal” appears to have spurred just as much outrage from media chatterers in the West — and the fact that our corporate media treats it that way shows just how little they’re bothered by authoritarian tendencies at home.
This second saga started when no. 1 men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic arrived in Australia with a medical exemption from the Covid-19 shot because he had beaten Covid in December. After nine hours at the airport, the Serbian star’s travel visa was canceled and he was forced to quarantine at a hotel used to house refugees.
A judge overruled the visa cancellation and ordered Djokovic freed, but shortly afterward Australia’s immigration minister re-canceled the visa and Djokovic was deported from Australia, barred from participation in the Australian Open.
If the Djokovic v. Australia situation merits coverage or outrage, it’s over the Australian government’s shocking arc toward authoritarianism over the past two years (though it’s obviously not on the same level as the Chinese government’s treatment of Peng Shuai — at least Australia is honest about rounding its people up into camps).
The complications of an unvaccinated tennis star just do not merit the same international outcry as the apparent forceful disappearance of a tennis star who challenges a communist government, full stop. But not only are corporate media pearl-clutching as much over Djokovic as they did over Peng Shuai, this time they’re on the authoritarians’ side.
Search the Washington Post website, for example, and you’ll find more than 40 articles about Djokovic and his vaccination exemption saga. (That’s more than they ran on Peng Shuai’s disappearance.) One op-ed from the editorial board proclaims “the Post’s view” is that “Novak Djokovic puts more people than himself in danger.”
MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin jumped on Djokovic as one of “these anti-vaxx sports stars who think the rules somehow don’t apply to them,” and the Washington Post’s Max Boot decried Djokovic’s “covid misconduct,” insisting it “shows that true greatness still eludes him.” It’s not hard to find more examples. Djokovic’s pushback against Australia’s Covid regime has ruffled feathers.
The media bandwagoners bashing Djokovic are just making themselves look petty and silly. Their words and attention would be far better spent criticizing what everyone formerly thought was still a free and democratic country down under for locking down its citizens, using facial recognition to keep them contained, putting the Covid unclean into camps, and arresting dissidents.
Even better, the talking heads of the media and sports worlds could call attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government against not just Peng Shuai but Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang — a crisis about which an NBA part-owner just told the world he “doesn’t care.” With the Beijing Olympics just weeks away, the time is opportune.
But instead, the ire is directed at a Serbian tennis player who dared to get a doctor’s note. Western media (for the most part, for now, at least in this particular instance) are willing to criticize authoritarianism in China — but when our own governments start to show similar tendencies, the dissidents are the ones on the chopping block.