Editorial: After Rio – What message did the Olympic Games sent us?

By Stephanie LI Yingliang

Sep.10, 2016


Street robberies, gun shootings, poor athletes’ accommodations, water pollution, political turmoil… Nightmares seem to be haunting the 2016 Rio Olympics as early as several months before the Opening Ceremony on August 5th. And the drama goes on, at least for the Chinese team during the Games.

The show started with a curtain-raiser — Mack Horton calling his arch-rival Sun Yang in 400m swimming a “drug cheat”, which exploded almost instantly on social media as Horton “got half a million negative responses to a single online post” according to a report on DAILY MAIL AUSTRALIA [1]. Furious Chinese “netizens” were either passionately defending their “king” as Sun is a beloved sport star in China, or even using abusive curses to attack the Australian swimmer. So a personal feu aggravated to a battle between two countries. On August 8th, from a report titled “Is Chinese swimmer Sun Yang a drug cheat or just a jerk?” on NEWS.COM.AU [2], we can see how the Australian media approached the incident. Sun’s behavior was put under the spotlight in this report, including the accusations made by at least six other teams of him “intentionally disrupted” other athletes in the training pool (of course, he “splashed water” at Horton too). But the news story drags on with his love life, troubles with his coach, and other personal “bad records” listed as evidence of him just being a “jerk”. In a piece from AFP posted on SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST [3], the Chinese swimming team “has a reputation for controversies”, but it mainly focuses on some swimmers’ struggle, if not failure, with the doping test. THE GUARDIAN covered the story from a bystander angle [4], although one of the pieces quoted the GLOBAL TIME,  a mouthpiece for the CCP, as the Chinese newspaper “refers to Australia’s history as a penal colony in response to swimmer criticizing Chinese athlete over doping” [5], which obviously sounds like a sore loser making vindictive comments and personal attacks.

On the other hand, Chinese media reputed the offensive rhetoric from some western media and attempted to resort to the IOC, as it should be the responsibility of the Committee to investigate the incident. The words used in a XINHUA’s report on 10th August to describe Horton, Australian Swimmers Association, and some Australian media are “malicious abuse”, “intentional provocation”, “premeditated defamation”, etc.[6] And some more pieces from XINHUA were dedicated to praise him as being “strong, persevere and resolute” [7], or to tell Sun’s side of the story and how he had been through the tough two days with the touching encouragement from his mother [8]. Nevertheless, as one can imagine, there was a flood of support coming at his way on Chinese social media platform Weibo, hash-tagged “Don’t cry Sun” [9][10], when people saw him bursting in tears after failing in losing the championship to Horton on Weibo and later on TV.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, such attempts rushing to defend Sun might seem too protective and nationalistic, and could easily give the already fixated impression of Chinese people being dishonest and disregarding of rules. Another thinking point is that Sun has been controversial in both his sport life and personal life, which makes him susceptible to attacks once he did something wrong, while with Horton, he has no dirt to dig up, so frankly, he is confident enough to express strong opinion against a wrongdoing.

Still, it is rather difficult to see through the dense mist of this incident. Horton and the Australian Swimmers Association refused to apologize for the comment and the IOC did not intend to investigate the incident despite China’s complaint. However, I believe there is a reason why WADA accepted Sun’s explanations on how he got positive on test results. And Sun did served his time for a three-month suspension. So perhaps as another Australian report says, it is “grossly unfair” to call Sun a “drug cheat” [11]. The whole incident should stop by both sides reflecting on their behaviors. Athletes should always preserve the highest standards in sports as everyone should compete fairly without the influence of drugs. That is the Olympic spirit. And therefore precisely in such spirit, shouldn’t we also exclude the influence of words that we know will hurt others? The integrity of sport must be kept by all athletes, in terms of zero tolerance for doping, as well as zero tolerance for trash talking.

By and large, a fresh breeze did come up from Rio: once there was a “gold rush”, when China was eager to show off its national power which climaxed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Team China topped the standing of gold medal, the Chinese public seemed to be “forgiving” [12] in the face of the “worst Olympics for 20 years” [13], according to two reports from AP and AFP. Despite all the controversies, the Chinese swimming team is a house of stars – Sun Yang and his muscles, Ning Zetao and his gorgeous looking, and the most adorable of them all, Fu Yuanhui. Her genuine, light-hearted comments broke the staid stereotype of the Chinese team, and her funny “expression pack” has gone viral on social media; a marriage proposal made by the diver Qin Kai to his girlfriend He Zi, who won the silver medal of Women’s 3-meter springboard diving, although some teased it as the man stealing thunder in the woman’s big moment of her own achievement [14][15]. These changes send a message that the power of social media is re-shaping China. Young people no longer rely on their source of information from traditional printing press or ever TV. The Internet generation is shaking off the patriotic burden and love their athletes for who they are, how they look, or what they say, instead of merely some robots programmed to win gold medals.







[1] Daily Mail Australia: ‘It was just all hate from Chinese people’: Mack Horton reveals he got half a MILLION negative responses to a single online post after calling rival Sun Yang a drug cheat in Rio.


[2] News.com.au: Is Chinese swimmer Sun Yang a drug cheat or just a jerk?


[3] SCMP: Sex, drugs and records roll: what lies ahead in Rio for China’s all-conquering swimmers led by their Sun-sation?


[4] The Guardian: Australia refuses to apologise for Mack Horton’s Sun Yang ‘drug cheat’ comment


[5] The Guardian: China says Australia is ‘on fringes of civilisation’ after swimmer Mack Horton attacks Sun Yang


[6] XinHua: 杨明视点:IOC应严肃调查“霍顿事件” 中方应追究相关责任


[7] XinHua: 坚强·坚持·坚定——记孙杨


[8] XinHua: 孙杨:用实力说话 让责任“作主”


[9] Weibo: #孙杨不哭#


[10] CNN: ‘No apology’: Fury in China after Australian calls swimmer a drug cheat


[11] The Australian: Rio Olympics: Why Mack Horton’s cheat call is not fair on Chinese rival


[12] AP: In China, a forgiving public embraces fewer gold medals http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3751254/In-China-forgiving-public-embraces-fewer-gold-medals.html#ixzz4JeRPaBB7  [13] AFP: China puts brave face on worst Olympics for 20 years


[14] AP: China’s ‘mudslides’ inject personality into once-staid team


[15] Vox: What if we judged sexist sport coverage as an Olympic sport?






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