The Olympics and the Arrogant Victim

I can't believe they're being so unfair to Chinese athletes, says South Korean fencer Shin Lim before remembering that she's South Korean and that China isn't the only nation to be affected by questionably Olympic judging.
The London Olympics are about to wind to a close. Watching the Olympics and China at the same time is always interesting. As usual, the country’s athletes have dominated this year, and they have been number one in the gold medal count nearly every day (though as I write this, China is actually down a few). And, as usual, Chinese nationalists are convinced that China is the victim of a vast conspiracy.

The events in question

This year, there seem to be four specific things the Chinese are upset about. Chen Yibing’s silver-medal finish in gymnastics, a US swim coach’s vague and unsubtantiated allegations that Ye Shiwen was doping, and the disputed disqualification of a Chinese biking duo and the less-disputed disqualification of a Chinese badminton team for losing intentionally along with teams from South Korea and Indonesia.

Of these, Chen Yibing’s silver appears to be the most questionable; or at least, appears to have been questioned most widely outside China. I’m not a gymnastics expert and I haven’t watched the competition, so I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. Perhaps Chen did get robbed. However, it seems unlikely that there’s a conspiracy afoot to rob Chinese athletes of gold medals in gymnastics. China has won four golds in gymnastics, more than any other country, and eight total medals, tied with Russia for first. (And with the subjective nature of gymnastics judging, if I were organizing an Olympic anti-China conspiracy, that’s where I would start).

I also know nothing about biking; that decision also dropped a Chinese team from gold to silver. Was that a bad call? The correct call? Corruption of some sort? I have no idea. But there’s certainly no evidence that it’s part of an anti-China conspiracy, unless you consider the fact that China didn’t win as evidence.

The American coach’s stupid allegations about Ye Shiwen were stupid (I think I mentioned that), but they certainly don’t evince a conspiracy to rob China of medals; the IOC does not rescind gold medals on the basis of what competing coaches say, and even Nature‘s much-criticized article on the issue says very clearly in the first paragraph that Ye has never tested positive for substance abuse, including in her post-race test. There was never any danger she would lose her medal, although the groundless speculation is unfortunate and US coach John Leonard should be disciplined and perhaps fired for making unsportsmanlike and unsupported accusations.

The Chinese badminton team’s expulsion is perhaps the least convincing of the “conspiracy” cases, given that the team turned in a performance so obviously bad that the crowd began to boo — not the sort of thing you see often during the Olympics. My understanding is that the Chinese team claimed they were sick after their disqualification was announced, which is a bit difficult to believe because of how they explained their awful performance before they were disqualified for losing intentionally:

“Actually these opponents really were strong. This is the first time we’ve played them and tomorrow it’s the knockout rounds, so we’ve already qualified and we wanted to have more energy for the knockout rounds,” said Yu.

“Really, it’s not necessary to go out hard again when the knockout rounds are tomorrow.”

A Note on Refereeing

So really, we’re just down to the Chen Yibing loss and the bicycling disqualification as signs of foreign foul play in China’s Olympic performances. Although I don’t claim to know the intricacies of reffing either sport, I will say this: as someone who has worked as a referee before, it is way harder than it looks. It is much easier to do from one’s couch while watching TV than it is to do in real life. Conspiracy seems far less likely to me than that the judges simply made mistakes.

Nor is getting screwed over by the refs solely a Chinese problem, although you would get that impression from some of the Chinese media. Chinese nationalists might ask Japanese boxer Satoshi Shimizu, South Korean fencer Shin Lam, the Spanish men’s water polo team, the South African field hockey team, Iranian boxer Ali Mazaheri, the Japanese men’s team artistic gymnastics team, South Korean judo wrestler Cho Jun-ho, and the Canadian women’s soccer team (among others) how they feel about the refs in their respective competitions. Sometimes, the refs screw up. It’s unfortunate, but the fact that it’s happened to China a couple times isn’t a huge surprise given that China has nearly 400 olympians playing in hundreds of different matches and competitions.

China is being robbed!

Nevertheless, these incidents have led to a lot of yelling on China’s internet and in the media about how the London Olympics are out to cheat China out of medals. According to the Global Times, a survey on ifeng found that 75% of respondents felt Olympic refs and judges were targeting Chinese players. The prevailing theory is, of course, that the West hates seeing China succeed (read some of those comments), with bet-rigging a in close second.

It’s not really clear who is perpetrating this conspiracy. “The West” is sometimes cited, as is America, London, the United Kingdom, and even the IOC. Why it would be so important to any of these people to screw China out of a few gold medals is also deeply unclear — is beating China in the medal count (which the US would have done anyway regardless of all the disputed events listed above) going to fix the American or European economies? Contain Chinese military expansion? Force China to adjust its trade policies?

If you ask supporters of the conspiracy theory this — why would anyone be intentionally sabotaging Chinese athletes? — the answer is generally just that “the West” wants to see China fail. After spending some time discussing this with a few of the nationalists who now follow me on weibo (because of this), I had a thought.

Obviously, China’s victim mentality remains extremely strong among some of its most ardent “patriots.” It seems sort of incredible to me that one can simultaneously be winning the Olympics (if that’s a thing) and complaining that the Olympics is rigged against you. It is, however, an offshoot of the idea that the government drills from time to time in its propaganda when it wants to stoke the fires of nationalism: ‘Remember what the foreigners did to us a hundred years ago? They’re still trying to do that.’

The fact that there’s no evidence of this doesn’t seem to matter at all. As far as I’m aware, aside from feeling like Chinese athletes should have won some events, there is absolutely zero evidence that those losses are connected to any foul play on the part of judges or anyone else, and even less (if that’s possible) evidence that any of this theoretical foul play is related to an anti-China bias. As I mentioned above, China is hardly the only country to be upset about aspects of the judging so far this Olympics.

More and more, though, I am struck by the utter arrogance that lies behind this perpetual-victim mentality. After all, if you assume that someone is out to get you, you’re making yourself the victim but you’re also assuming that they care enough about you to bother. Some Chinese nationalists — including popular media commentators — seem to hold the impression that everything “the West” does is related to trying to contain China in some way.

Of course, some Western governments — including my own homeland’s — certainly do plenty of things that really are aimed at containing China (see, for example, the much publicized “pivot” plan). But not everything that every foreigner does is driven by anti-China bias. In fact, my return to my home country last month has driven home for me a truth that some of my weibo followers would probably find unpleasant to the point of disbelief: most foreigners do not give a fuck about China. It’s not something that people think about during their day. It does occasionally become a hot issue in politics or the media, but generally those issues aren’t really related to China at all; China is being used as a comparison and a foil to reflect problems with America (job outsourcing, weak economic growth, terrible science education, general fat laziness, etc.).

The Olympics do have some symbolic value, of course, although I think Chinese people tend to take them much more seriously as a reflection of their nation’s status than anyone in the United States has since the miracle on ice. Even so, though, how inflated must one’s self-importance be to assume that any questionable call in a sporting event is a hostile geopolitical act?

(I must pause here to say that I do realize — and embrace — the irony of a not-everything-revolves-around-you lecture coming from an American. Yup, America is just as bad if not worse.)

So seriously, enough of the Olympic conspiracy bullshit. In their accusations of foul play, Chinese commentators are being just as wrong-headed and foolish as John Leonard was when he accused Ye Shiwen of doping. Leonard had no evidence to back up his accusations, just a feeling that in the American loss, something unfair had happened. China has no evidence to back up its conspiracy theories either, just a feeling that China didn’t get gold in a few events where it feels it should have. Maybe those events were unfair, but biased? There’s no evidence of that. Unfair officiating

The whole point of the Olympics is for everyone to come together in a spirit of sportsmanship, forget all the politics, and enjoy the thrills of competition at the highest levels of athletics. But despite the fact that China’s athletes have achieved remarkable things this games and racked up yet another incredible gold medal count, China seems determined to pout about the London Olympics. It’s not so much that China still wants to be the victim. It is still, I think of remnant of the old imperial center-of-the-universe mentality: the fact that we are a victim is just further evidence that ultimately, it’s all about us.

133 thoughts on “The Olympics and the Arrogant Victim”

  1. Yeah I know they’re not really Communist anymore but Americans, especially older ones, are going to have an association between a red flag, the phrase “People’s Republic”, the Olympics, and cheating, fair or not. I’m just saying that it’s not racial, since the same stereotypes and accusations were levied at Eastern Europeans for years.


  2. And anybobjective person would have seen that when it comes to certain sports such as diving and gym, Chinese athletes are definitely judged unfavorablely when competing against those from a lot of other countries. They have to be better in order to receive the same scores, in general.


  3. Heh, if you think the judges are hard on those athletes, you should have seen what they did during the Cold War. The United States got hosed for decades in gymnastics by the Eastern Bloc. The judges would be like: Canada: 9.5, France: 9, Untied Kingom: 9, China: 8.5 (post Sino-Soviet split), Hungary:5, East Germany: 5, Romania: 4.5.


  4. You are missing the point and blaming the victim Charlie. The Chinese aren’t whingeing about bad decisions any more than anyone else.

    What pissed them off was the fact that the Guardian printed John Leonard’s long tirade against Ye Shiwen word for word and put it on the front page. From there it was predictably churned from one title to another and within hours had dominated the Olympic news agenda.

    In this instance at least the Chinese can make a good case on press bias and I don’t see that their feeling justifiably aggrieved makes them arrogant. Of course there are nationalist nutters on the Internet but they are not representative.


  5. Charlie is too angry towards the Chinese to be fair minded and objective. He should now understand how others feel when they feel slighted all the time, as most should. He needs to get over the mission of molding the Chinese in his image. Until then he is unlikely to be happy with the way Chinese perceive things.


  6. “What pissed them off was the fact that the Guardian printed John Leonard’s long tirade against Ye Shiwen word for word and put it on the front page. From there it was predictably churned from one title to another and within hours had dominated the Olympic news agenda.”

    And then they conducted an opinion poll that showed 90% of readers believing Ms Ye deserved an apology. Don’t recall many people mentioning that.


  7. Another bi-polar US-PRC sports discussion.

    People will sit up and respect China when it fields a cricket team which can withstand a really good pace bowling attack.

    And calling Drogba the “Devil Beast” says a lot about Sino racism and their general fear of Black African folk. Disgusting even if Shenhua fans are applauding him which is not hard, since Chinese footballers are a collection of talentless tossers who should all be drafted into the chengguan..


  8. “And anybobjective person would have seen that when it comes to certain sports such as diving and gym, Chinese athletes are definitely judged unfavorablely”
    —yeah, that sounds “objective”.

    I newspaper prints one swim coach’s tirade, and that leads to conspiracy theories coming out the wazoo. I don’t know what the metric is for a “measured response”, but the example in question doesn’t seem to fit.


  9. @John – Yeah, because apparently when an coach makes such an accusation it’s not news and shouldn’t be reported.

    Carl Lewis’s comments about Bolt (and Bolt’s response) were also widely reported, but they didn’t lead to Jamaicans trying to make out that this was the result of a conspiracy because, crazily enough, Jamaicans can tell the difference between a newspaper reporting someone’s comments and the newspaper saying it themselves.


  10. SK, if you are more than happy to be a 2nd class subhuman following your master’s behind and kissing ass, so be it; but don’t expect everyone else to be like you. When I see arrogance,stereotypes and stupidity I want to call spade a spade. I don’t exaggerate it nor do I under estimate/deny it.


  11. When an arrogant, sterotypical and stupid coach spew in public the I-am-100%-sure-that-Ye-is-doped duckshit based on guilt-by-association, and all those western media and journalist were running it like it is factual, that is the big problem!

    In my view, it is usually 贼喊捉贼! LOL


  12. I think living in a country with a media that is state-directed makes it difficult for some to understand how an independent media with thousands of different opinions works. Basically, they think “our media has a political line given to them by the government that they have to toe, so the western media MUST be the same”. That’s the difference between the Jamaicans and the Chinese here.


  13. indecent media? From whom? They are all controlled by big money such as Rupert murdoch and the like , who make shamelessly claims of being fair and baleenced yet in reality spew outright lies and slanted views. Msnbc and CNN are no better! I know there decent ppl but more and more they are the minority. Tabloids are infiltrating into every aspect of reporting. At least the Chinese government media does not make bogus claims! LOL


  14. Independent from State control and direction.

    “At least the Chinese government media does not make bogus claims”


    No words. Are you a parody?


  15. Also, there’s other media to choose from besides corporate media here. In China it’s the government’s mouthpiece or nothing.


  16. Yes, the government makes it clear the the media is the 党的喉舌, more honest than the media in the west!

    Just because it does fit your model does not mean it is somehow has to be changed to suit your ideals. Westerners are too arrogant to face this.


  17. You can choose Charlie’s blog! LOL!

    How about the west? After the media has fed the masses duckshit about ai weirdo 24/7 whenever it comes to china, only few are left with any critical thinking skills on issues deleted to china! LOL! u know what,only the masses are fooled , plus some who are delusional about the foundations of a normal society! LOL


  18. So the state-run media is more honest than an independent media would be, because…they say so. Uh, OK. Excuse me if I don’t find that a terribly convincing argument.

    And an independent, free media is not “western”, I can name four or five Asian nations off the top of my head that have one.


  19. Good God man, the vast majority of Americans, if you asked them about Ai Weiwei, would think it’s something you order at a restaurant.


  20. “Could I get a large ai wei wei and some prawn crackers?”

    We laugh, but it’s probably true. If someone wants to make an informed criticism of China coverage in the American media, they should say that there’s not enough of it, not that it’s overly hostile. This goes for most other foreign countries, too.


  21. “2nd class subhuman following your master’s behind and kissing ass,”
    —funny, I don’t have that problem. Perhaps you’re having issues doing the CCP’s bidding for them. I imagine it would be a thankless job. That’s also probably why they can’t recruit anyone to do it apart from numb-nuts like you.

    One coach misspoke, in one newspaper. Time to get some context, m’friend. Or perhaps the humble beginnings of a clue. Unfortunately for people like you, one coach is one newspaper does a conspiracy make. You people are a curious lot.

    Trying to speak of concepts like an independent media with buffoons like young’n’dumb who have yet to be weaned from the teat of the CCP machine is mission impossible. Their best example is Fox news, when everyone already realizes that Fox news is little more than self-parody.

    Anyway, it’s always fun listening to a CCP apologist speak of “critical thinking skills”, then watching them offer up a litany of examples which demonstrate just how precious those skills are in the CCP’s realm.


  22. @Cheung

    And it’s not like Fox News is the only news channel in the entire United States, and all other channels are banned by the federal government.

    And even IF THAT were true, they still wouldn’t have even the whiff of a point. I mean so what? because two countries are violating freedom of the press instead of just one, that somehow makes it OK?

    As Orwell once said, to the nationalist, the morality of certain actions aren’t determined by the acts themselves, but by who is doing them. If it’s the nationalist’s favored power unit, then it’s moral, if it’s one of the rival power units, then it’s immoral. That’s the kind of intellectually bankrupt thinking we’re dealing with here.

    I’d suggest YoungIT read that. It fits him to a T.


  23. To Ben,
    precisely. And I don’t even watch Fox news…except when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert show funny clips. In fact, I have much to be thankful to Fox news for; without them, Stewart/Colbert would have much less fodder.

    The thinking you describe is the staple for the typical CCP apologist. Regardless of what it is, as long as it’s the CCP that is doing it, it’s A OK.


  24. So you are under the assumption that the Olympics is some kind of ethereal for profit business that transcends humanity?

    When in reality on one knows who actually owns the Olympics or how much money they make.

    Wake up.


  25. Benjamin D.
    I think living in a country with a media that is state-directed makes it difficult for some to understand how an independent media with thousands of different opinions works.

    I think living in a country with the vast majority of media outlets dominated by a tiny cabal of corporations makes it difficult for some to understand just how brainwashed they really are.


  26. And the answer is yes, there is bias against not only China but South Korea. What happened to Shin Lam was an utter disgrace and transparent farce.

    The cycling issue is brought up because even EUROPEAN observers noted that the British cyclists who made the same mistake were allowed to keep their gold (it was ignored entirely in fact). After Chen Yibing lost the crowd booed and if I’m not mistaken the Brazilian medalist himself said he did not deserve to win.


  27. To Truth-nut,
    people shilling for the CCP should really avoid using terms like “brainwash”. It’s a sign of a grave lack of imagination, not to mention profound stupidity and lack of perspective.


  28. With the cycling decision it’s always left out that in the previous round reigning champ, Victoria pendleton from team GB, was disqualified on 2 occasions. She took it well and didn’t throw a strop. She admitted it was unfair and she was confused, but left it that. The rules in the velodrome have also been changed to try and stop GB grabbing so many medals. Imagine if they did that for diving or badminton to stop China winning. Also the French coach accused GB of cheating in the cycling. The GB coach just laughed. There was no media outburst. With the gymnastics they also leave out how GB lost their silver after Japan made an appeal. Devastating but they took it on the chin. Just like the GB men’s Sprint relay team did when disqualified. And why is no one mentioning how Xinhua is trying to claim some of Kazakhstan’s medals?

    You’re right too about no one outside China giving a toss about China. Since returning home, I’ve learned that also.


  29. Truthspeaker – what? No! In the same race where the Chinese duo were relegated, the British pair were disqualified. They got no medal! Check your facts. Germany got the gold in that round and some other team got a bronze. You’re just twisting facts to prove your dumb theory correct. China proved itself as a sore loser in these games.


  30. As Lance Armstrong is being raked over on the basis of no apparent direct evidence, I wonder if he has much empathy for the few Chinese Olympic athletes who were supposedly shafted. I guess there’s Chinese Olympian style “shafted”, and then there is the real full-on “shafted”.


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