China, Hong Kong, and Basketball: How One Tweet Started a Firestorm in the NBA

by Nicholas Kishaba

Staff Writer

In March, demonstrations began in the streets of Hong Kong, largely in protest against a bill which would essentially allow the Chinese government to extradite fugitives from regions they do not currently control, such as Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong City Leader Carrie Lam has agreed to withdraw the bill, however, as protests have increased in both frequency and violence, protesters’ demands have consolidated into a call for democracy. Among other demands such as amnesty for arrested protesters, and an inquiry into police brutality, there are also demands for the resignation for Lam, who is believed by the protesters to be a pawn for Beijing.

The constant tensions between protesters and the Chinese government, as well as the global focus they have received, have forced many American businesses to pick a side. Choose Hong Kong, and accept the fiscal repercussions of going against the Chinese government, or choose China, and suffer the social backlash in the United States of aligning with a country that has often “undermined people’s rights to free speech and political participation.” One organization has taken center stage in the Hong Kong dilemma: the National Basketball Association. 

Demonstrators in Hong Kong protest the new anti-mask law, despite heavy rains.

The NBA, which is the most notable basketball league in the United States, has grown to be one of the most popular and profitable sports leagues in the United States, but much of this growth was done on the back of the Chinese television market. In June 2019, the NBA announced a five-year extension of the partnership with the league’s current partner in China, Tencent,  worth an estimated 1.5 billion dollars. According to the NBA, roughly 640 million people watched some form of NBA programming during the 2018 season. In essence, basketball has become the biggest sport in China, and the NBA is China’s most popular basketball league. For the NBA, its stake in the Chinese market is notable, and the downfall of losing access to it would be steep. Yet on October 4th, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted an image stating “Fight for Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong.” The Chinese consulate in Houston reacted swiftly, quickly denouncing him. However, more surprise was yet to come as Morey was forced to tweet an apology while the NBA declared his statement as regrettable. While many understand the NBA’s fiscal relationship with China, distancing themselves from Morey and his statements appeared to many as tolerance for the Chinese government, if not outright support. 

For nearly 60 years, the NBA has been characterized as a league of free speech, protests, and social activism. From Bill Russell becoming the black coach in American Sports in 1966, to players and coaches openly criticizing Donald Trump’s policies, the NBA has been identified as arguably the most progressive sports league in the U.S. But the conflict between China and Hong Kong has shown a lack of confidence in the players, owners, and league towards activism. The league which has never punished someone for expressing their views is speculated to have pressured Daryl Morey to publicly apologize. Even LeBron James, a player who in the past wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, opened a school for underserved children in Ohio, and called Donald Trump a “bum,” criticized Morey for his tweet, arguing that he wasn’t properly educated on the situation. 

While it is likely that the NBA leadership would have preferred to remain neutral in the conflict, James, as arguably the most notable basketball figure of the 21st century, has chosen the side of the NBA, irrespective of the views held by others in the organization. It doesn’t matter that Kyrie Irving, a player for the Brooklyn Nets, gave his support to Hong Kong in a post-game interview, nor is it of any consequence that former player Shaquille O’Neal had outrightly declared that Daryl Morey was right. The public image of the NBA has suffered in both of its biggest markets. Some players have quickly sided with Hong Kong, while others  are attempting to maintain business ties with the Chinese market. The rest are caught in the crossfire, avoiding choosing sides, and citing a lack of knowledge on the situation to provide comments. The most recent official comment by the NBA, made by the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, is that the NBA would support freedom of expression. But for many fans in both the United States and Hong Kong, this public expression of support is just not enough. Bipartisan pressure from Congress is pushing the NBA to change its stance on Hong Kong, as senators and congressmen are pressuring U.S. companies to confront China. However, the threat of action from the Chinese government looms large as well. The NBA has already faced consequences, as Tencent, the NBA’s streaming partner, has cut off Houston Rockets’ games from their platform. Further statements on Hong Kong would likely see more stringent action being taken against the NBA. Seeking to satisfy fans in the United States in this controversy would undoubtedly hurt their relationship with the Chinese government and the market under their control. Unfortunately for the NBA, it’s nearly impossible to satisfy all sides of the equation, and the statements which have been made have already hurt its image, reputation, and revenue.

Photos courtesy of:

Etan Liam

Piotr Drabik

FÚTBOL IN ARGENTINA: CELEBRATING SUCCESS RATHER THAN FAILURE

By Jacob Poore
Contributing Writer

Thousands poured into the Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires, Argentina hours before the start of the World Cup Final. Argentina came into the tournament with high expectations, especially with a weak group that included Iran, Nigeria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, none of which are known for their soccer success. Spirits were high before the match, especially after close victories over Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands in the knockout stages. Plaza San Martín, named after General San Martín who liberated Argentina, Chile and Peru from Spanish rule, has been the place to be for Argentines and tourists alike during Argentina’s World Cup matches. The Plaza, located in the center of one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities, had a large screen that can be viewed by thousands at a time and provided an environment like no other. Leading up to the entrance to the viewing area, fans were greeted by vendors looking to sell Argentina jerseys, pins, flags, hats, beanies and vuvuzelas. Fans lined up to have their faces painted for five pesos for an Argentine flag on each cheek (equivalent to $1.25).

Most fans were dressed in Argentina jerseys, many with the number 10 on the front and either the name Maradona or Messi on the back. There is a continuing narrative in sports media that Lionel Messi is not loved in Argentina. This is simply not true; Messi is adored by fans here, and they make it very clear. During Argentina’s semifinal game against the Netherlands, numerous fans yelled “un besito para ti Messi!”–a kiss for you, Messi. A popular soccer chant in Argentina and other Spanish speaking countries, “Olé, Olé, Olé” is instantly recognizable around the world. Argentine fans have affectionately changed the chant to “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Messi, Messi,” among other variations.

Similar to other sport viewing venues, fans at the Plaza had to go through a security check. During Argentina’s game against Switzerland in the Round of 16, security was thorough with bag checks, asking fans to move sweaters or other items so that they could see everything in the bag. However, the number of fans entering the Plaza for the final match was overwhelming, and security had a much more difficult time doing full bag checks. Then, fans were greeted by a different form of security: federal and city police in full riot gear, complete with guns and rubber bullets. The numerous fireworks and explosions from bottle rockets was a clear indication that security was not as thorough as it could have been, perhaps because they only checked bags, not sweaters or pockets.

Navigating the crowd was close to impossible, as fans staked out their claims for the best view of the large screen possible, a view that was often still obstructed by people in front of them. Many fans tried to get a better view of the screen by climbing a makeshift fence that separated the crowd from cameras and other equipment for outdoor viewing. This angered fans whose views were obstructed, and calls for people to get down–combined with an excessive amount of swearing–encouraged the climbers to simply knock down the fence, satisfying the rest of the crowd and themselves.

A trend in Argentina’s quest for World Cup victory was low-scoring, close games, in spite of expectations that Argentina would rely heavily on Messi, Angel Di Maria, and Sergio Agüero to outscore opponents for theoretically high-scoring games. In short, Argentina’s best defense was supposed to be its offense. Part of Argentina’s success came from its ability to control the ball, preventing its opponent from mounting a clear offensive attack. Also, though offense and possession was Argentina’s strength, Sergio “Chiquito” Romero, Argentina’s goalkeeper, proved to be a stabilizing defensive force and did not allow any goals from the Round of 16 match against Switzerland to the semifinal game against the Netherlands.

The match itself was intense and hard fought until the end. Both teams had numerous opportunities to score early in the game but none were converted. Early in the final against Germany, Argentina was not able to control the ball as much as it had in previous games. Plaza San Martín exploded when Argentina finally scored a goal, but after an offsides call fans quickly realized what happened and cursed the screen and anything else around them.

The crowd was extremely lively throughout the match. Argentines created numerous songs and chants to cheer on their team, the most notorious being “Brasil, decíme que se siente,” a song created specifically for this year’s World Cup. The song taunts Brazil, Argentina’s eternal rival, asking it how it feels to have its father in its own house, reopening old wounds such as when Argentina knocked Brazil out of the 1990 World Cup. It ends with the most powerful statement: “Maradona es más grande que Pelé,” stating that Diego Maradona, the hero of the 1986 World Cup, is better than Pelé, the Brazilian footballer who is regarded as the best player of all time. Another favorite was created after the semifinal win against the Netherlands. The crowd began jumping and chanting, roughly translated, “you have to jump, you have to jump, whoever doesn’t jump is German.”

Despite the energy and optimistic feeling entering the game, Germany’s goal with only six minutes left in the second extra time completely stunned and silenced the crowd. There was a ripple effect throughout the crowd, as people who could not see the screen well slowly swallowed what they were not able to see. There was not only a feeling of shock, but also disbelief. Argentina was only six minutes away from penalty kicks, where they defeated the Netherlands in dominating fashion in the previous round. During the tournament, Argentina had been a master at outlasting its opponent and scoring late to secure a victory. This time seemed to be no different, except Germany delivered a late heavy blow in the same way Argentina had to Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Even with the late goal, Argentine fans recovered their hope and began chanting once again, willing their team to a goal from over 1,500 miles away. With less than two minutes left, fans began accepting reality, applauding both their team for their effort and Germany for its victory. Though the presence of riot police was alarming, people filed out of the Plaza without incident, still smiling, clapping, dancing and singing as they made their way to Calle Florida, towards the Obelisco and the Plaza de Mayo. There was no violent or extremely disruptive behavior, other than more fireworks being launched into the sky. Argentines continued singing that Maradona is better than Pelé and waved flags all the way to the Obelisco, where the festivities continued into the late hours of the night.

The celebration, at least immediately after the game, was a refreshing break from recent unruly World Cup celebrations, most notably those in Huntington Park, California following Mexico’s matches. Later in the night, police moved in at the Obelisco to quell the celebrations that became increasingly dangerous, and more police were sent to the Plaza de la República in the early hours of the morning. At least one bar was broken into and robbed, and by 11:30, at least 40 people had been arrested and eight police officers were wounded. By the time police moved in, most people had cleared out of the area. The biggest incident was a group of 15 fans that broke an antenna off a television news station’s truck, prompting journalists to flee the vehicle.

Despite the violent actions from a small group of fans, Argentina celebrated its World Cup success rather than its failures. The World Cup is an extremely grueling test of both physical and mental abilities, and Argentina came incredibly close to winning it all, winning six games in a row before the crushing loss in the final. Argentine fans clearly appreciated their team’s success and made it known following the match. The vast majority of fans celebrated by dancing in the streets, honking car horns, and making sure that Brazil knows it will never forget the time its ‘father’ placed higher in its own home.

Photos by Jacob Poore

SOCCER SCORES NEW GOALS FOR HIV PREVENTION IN AFRICA

Soccer Match in South Africa

By Param Bhatter
Staff Writer

Could soccer be the most popular sport in the world? With the FIFA World Cup approaching, and all of the drama and excitement that it entails, soccer fans all over the world are getting more and more anxious with anticipation for the summer. As perhaps the one sport that is played and watched by all, from any culture, the world stage that soccer employs is perhaps the greatest of any sport. Soccer also happens to be perhaps one of the most democratic sports in the world, with every player, regardless of position, contributing equally to the team and having the ability to score. With over 1 billion people watching the world cup, nobody can deny the power of soccer and its ability to unify people all over the world.

But soccer is no longer just a sport. With such a global presence, soccer is now being utilized as a vehicle for addressing health issues around the world. Used as a tool to help break customary values and longstanding traditions, soccer is promoting HIV awareness in many separate parts of Africa.

In the Nkomazi district of South Africa, medical workers believe that 65 percent of people in the adolescent and young adult age group carry HIV. In this culture, HIV is extremely frowned upon and disregarded, and denial is often the easiest solution for victims of the condition. People who admit to having the disease are often ridiculed by their family and friends and considered outcasts.

In the last five years however, there has been an increase in the awareness of the virus, the options for treatment, and information passed on concerning how to limit its transmission, all accomplished through the sport of soccer. Spearheaded by former Stanford assistant coach, Sarah Noftsinger, the initiative has established a soccer league that runs in over five villages with over 2,500 participants and 160 teams that promote the spread of knowledge of HIV and AIDS. In the league, players receive instruction from trained coaches about topics such as HIV, domestic violence and self-confidence. Players are offered incentives such as nicer jerseys and uniforms for attending these sessions, as well as subjecting themselves to HIV testing after games to make sure they stay in prime athletic condition.

Similar to Noftsinger’s efforts in South Africa, another organization that has now started making tremendous strides towards linking soccer with HIV and AIDS education is Grassroot Soccer. Founded by a small group of French professional soccer players, this project has developed an interactive curriculum that promotes soccer-themed HIV prevention through a so-called “Skillz Curriculum.” By conducting small drills on the soccer field that relate to HIV, the program appeals to many youth who love the sport and can benefit more from the education than from traditional classroom learning. For example, participants set up a bunch of cones that each represent a certain HIV related risk. If a player hits a cone while dribbling, each teammates must do pushups or run, showing how one’s personal mistake affects the rest of the family and community. Coaches are there to help raise awareness regarding all the issues accompanied by HIV, in addition to supporting their team, testing the players regularly, and of course helping them improve their soccer ability.

Many evaluations, conducted by universities such as Stanford and Johns Hopkins have shown that Grassroots is having a positive impact on knowledge and social stigmas related to HIV. Behavioral studies have shown that Grassroot program graduates were nearly six times less likely to engage in activities that could lead to the transmission of HIV. Grassroot has now expanded its programs into several countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, and the group is hoping to take their mission and success story to other continents as well.

With the variety of cultures, ideals and traditions in the world that differ from region to region, philanthropists, doctors and leaders often find it difficult to promote wellness and change stigmas that already exists regarding healthcare. Sports are an underlying aspect of society found in every culture, making them a perfect vehicle for change and reform. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and is now just beginning to be utilized to benefit society in ways besides competition and entertainment. The potential that it possesses to change the world is endless, and we are only now starting to exploit it.

For anyone who would like to get involved, feel free to check out Grassroot’s website and see what you can do today!

Image by digitalrob70