China’s new law targets those protesting overseas against Chinese sports teams

How exactly will the authorities in Beijing try to enforce Art. 120 of the new sports law? Maybe the international sports authorities will do the work for the CCP and ban the protests themselves.

by Massimo Introvigné

Wimbledon activists this week returned to the case of Peng Shuai, the female tennis star who ‘disappeared’ after reporting she had been sexually abused by a CCP leader. From Twitter.

Last month, China amended its 1995 National Sports Law for the third time, which had already been amended in 2009 and 2016. It is a mammoth law of 122 articles, which actually functions as a sports code. The changes introduced in the new text, which will come into force on January 1, 2023, correspond to Xi Jinping’s emphasis on “moderation”. While Olympic athletes retain certain privileges, the text tries to give the impression that the focus is on promoting the physical fitness of the average Chinese citizen. CCP organizations are told to ensure their members exercise daily, leading to online jokes (quickly deleted as usual) asking if the rule also applies to President Xi Jinping, whose rounded silhouette has been compared to Winnie the Pooh.

There are also draconian anti-doping provisions, likely intended to appease international sports federations that have suspected Chinese athletes in several disciplines.

All of this was largely ignored by most Western media, which discussed a single newly introduced provision of the Sports Law, Article 120. According to this article, “If a country, region or organization carries harm to the sovereignty, security, development, interests, and dignity of the People’s Republic of China in international sports, the People’s Republic of China may take corresponding measures according to the actual situation.

Several media reported that China will now “retaliate” when someone welcomes a Chinese team abroad by waving signs protesting human rights abuses or flags of Tibet and what the Uyghurs call the East Turkestan. This is an interesting concept, but exactly how China will “retaliate” is not explained.

The Sports Law of the People’s Republic of China is a law. It is not a program or a political statement. Normally, article 120 like all the other articles of the law should be able to be applied. How much of what happens in some sporting events where Chinese athletes compete overseas the CCP displeases is easy to understand. How the CCP can prevent foreign citizens from exercising their rights to protest in democratic countries is less clear. What are the “measures” threatened in Article 120?

China can of course withdraw from certain international competitions or boycott them, but this will probably please rather than punish the protesters, as they would have achieved the important goal of effectively excluding China from parts of international sport. It can also ban teams from countries where protests have taken place from traveling to China, but this would likely lead to sanctions from international federations.

One speculation is that Chinese embassies and consulates would send staff or “students” who would try to stop the protests. Overseas anti-CCP protesters have previously complained of being physically beaten by “students” supporting the Beijing regime at sporting events.

Perhaps Article 120 is deliberately vague, and the threat is left hanging in the hope that national authorities who don’t want trouble (or trade retaliation from Beijing) and international sports federations who have a tradition of appeasing China would do Beijing’s job themselves. In Australia, during the Basketball World Cup qualifiers, China earlier this month pleaded first Australia and then Taiwan.

Drew Pavlou with the sign (left) that expelled him (right) from the Australia v China basketball game in Melbourne on July 3.
Drew Pavlou with the sign (left) that expelled him (right) from the Australia v China basketball game in Melbourne on July 3.

Taiwanese flags were banned and confiscated, while Chinese flags were allowed. Drew Pavlou, an Australian human rights activist, tweeted that he was punched and dragged out of the stadium by security during the Australia v China match as he tried to display a sign ‘Stop the Uyghur Genocide “.

Sometimes all it takes is China to bark. He doesn’t even have to bite. This is perhaps the real meaning of Article 120.

Ruth J. Leeds