Former basketball star Yao Ming yesterday invited staunch Beijing critic Enes Kanter Freedom to visit China after the Boston Celtics player urged athletes to boycott the Winter Olympics in the capital.
Kanter has emerged as one of China’s most vocal critics in the sporting world, a rare athlete willing to forgo lucrative endorsements to speak on issues such as Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur and Tibetan minorities.
He has repeatedly spoken out on social media and been a guest on Western news shows as the Olympics nears.
In recent interviews he has accused China of using “money to buy silence” and called on other athletes “to pick morals over money.”
He also said that the diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Games by Australia, the UK and the US was “good, but not enough.”
Yao, China’s most famous basketball star and one of its Olympic bid ambassadors, was asked about Kanter’s politics at a news conference in Beijing.
“I’ve heard of him, but I can’t really judge him because I don’t know him,” the retired Houston Rockets player and current president of the China Basketball Association said. “If there is an opportunity, I would like to invite him to visit China... Then he may have a more comprehensive understanding of us.”
Chinese officials have previously invited foreign journalists and diplomats to go on state-arranged tours to Xinjiang to counter claims by human rights groups and Washington that a genocide is being carried out against Uighurs and other Turkic minorities, including through forced labor in factories and internment camps where detainees have allegedly been tortured and sexual abused.
Foreign reporters regularly encounter interference, surveillance and even detention by police and unidentified individuals while attempting to report from the ground in Xinjiang.
Kanter was raised in Turkey, where the plight of China’s Uighurs is closely followed. He is also a vocal critic of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He added “Freedom” to his name late last year when he gained US citizenship.
China suspended domestic broadcasts of NBA games for a year after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wrote on Twitter in support of Hong Kong democracy protesters in 2019. The country is by far the NBA’s largest overseas market.
The Women’s Tennis Association suspended all its China tournaments over concerns about the safety of China’s Peng Shuai, who disappeared from public view after she accused a former Chinese Communist Party leader of sexual assault.
She reappeared last month in pictures that showed her with Yao and other Chinese sports figures.
The association’s suspension was yesterday praised by four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka
“I’m really proud of them. I feel like it’s a situation where we need more information, which is definitely really hard,” she said.
On Saturday, world No. 3 Garbine Muguruza said that she feared the “real truth” about what happened to Peng might never be known.
“It seemed like for a moment, okay, we’re going to find out what’s happening,” she said. “I think it’s going to be very difficult to find a real truth and for her to be able to talk freely.”
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