The Tokyo Olympics will perhaps be remembered as one of the oddest Games in the event’s long and checkered history. Held amid a global pandemic, spectators are banned from most venues, leaving athletes to play out their feats of sporting brilliance in eerie silence. Meanwhile, furious Tokyo residents wave placards outside some venues, calling for the Games’ cancelation. Adding to the incongruity of it all, the entire Russian team is absent, banned due to a doping scandal.
That the Tokyo Olympics went ahead at all has been extremely contentious in Japan. Critics fear a mass outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 possibily being imported by some of athletes, Olympic officials and VIPs jetting in from abroad. Their fears are not unwarranted: Tokyo recorded 3,865 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, a daily record for a third day running, putting pressure on hospitals. Despite the unprecedented atmosphere, one aspect of the Games has not changed: petty nationalism and the politicization of sport.
Japanese and Taiwanese athletes have so far had good showings, though things have not gone smoothly for some of their Chinese counterparts. This has infuriated China’s nationalist keyboard warriors — known as “little pinks” (小粉紅) in Chinese — who are in a full meltdown over a series of perceived slights to their nation’s dignity.
Meanwhile, China’s state broadcasters have been tying themselves in knots to explain away every high-profile “failure” by Chinese athletes — anything less than a gold medal — and have been desperately cooking up excuses for every setback.
The first “incident” occurred as Taiwan’s Olympic team entered the stadium during the opening ceremony. Japanese state broadcaster NHK displayed “Taiwan” in Japanese on the screen, rather than “Chinese Taipei,” a Beijing-mandated oxymoron. The little pinks saw red, and China’s censors panicked. Live footage in China was suddenly cut and was not restored until after China’s team had made their entry into the stadium, further infuriating Chinese social media users.
On Saturday last week, female weightlifter Hou Zhihui (侯志慧) won China’s second gold medal of the Games. This should have been cause for celebration in the country, but brittle nationalists baulked at an “ugly” photograph of Hou straining to lift a weight about twice as heavy as herself posted on Twitter by Reuters. Little pinks bitterly accused “foreign media” of deliberately insulting China. Chinese diplomats also weighed in, with the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka on Twitter calling Reuters biased and shameless.
Other “incidents” include protestations over awards podium spacing and Taiwan’s men’s archery team trouncing China 5-1 in the quarter-finals. The latter drove China’s nationalists around the bend. They turned on their own, branding Chinese archer Wang Dapeng (王大鵬) a disgrace to the nation and a “fat ugly loser.”
Then there was a nail-biting finish to a doubles table tennis match on Monday, which saw Chinese players narrowly lose to their Japanese opponents. State broadcaster China Central Television jumped the gun and prematurely declared that China had won gold. The little pinks ragefully blamed the loss on everything from unfair judges to poor lighting to the Japanese players’ “dazzling” uniforms.
The only people bringing shame to China are the country’s spittle-flecked nationalists. Their hypersensitivity and nitpicking over every “unflattering” portrayal of China looks pathetic to the outside world. Their wafer-thin skin betrays an inferiority complex and deep-seated insecurity. A truly confident “great nation” would not act in such a manner. Perhaps it is the impotent rage of a people who dare not criticize their own government for its manifest failings, and instead turn on “foreign devils” to let off steam.
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