Turkish basketball player Enes Kanter has sparked a backlash in China by calling Chinese President Xi Jinping a “brutal dictator.”
The NBA player posted two messages of support for Tibetans on social media on Wednesday.
China’s Foreign Ministry has called his comments on the crackdown on Tibet “ridiculous.” Sports media giant Tencent will no longer broadcast Kanter’s Boston Celtics NBA games live.
The move echoes a similar decision made by Chinese media against another NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers, after incumbent President Daryl Morey supported the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Human rights activists and exiles have accused Beijing of practicing torture, forced sterilization and cultural erosion in Tibet.
Beijing has ruled the remote western region since the People’s Liberation Army took control in 1951, and the Chinese central government has denied the allegations.
‘I can’t stay silent,’ says Kanter
Enes Kanter voiced his criticism of the Chinese president in two posts that were shared on both Facebook and Twitter.
in a three minute videoThe 29-year-old criticized Beijing and proclaimed that “Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people.”
“Under the brutal rule of the Chinese government, the basic rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people are non-existent,” Kanter said.
“I cannot remain silent. I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters and support their calls for freedom.”
In the video, the Celtics center wore a T-shirt with the image of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
In a second post, Kanter uploaded an image of basketball shoes inscribed with Tibetan iconography and the slogan “Free Tibet.”
The shoes were designed by Baidiucao, a Chinese-born dissident cartoonist and cartoonist living in Australia.
Kanter was photographed wearing the shoes while on the bench during the first game of the 2021-22 season against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
The NBA only restricts players from using third-party logos on their shoes, which require prior permission.
In a daily press conference on ThursdayBeijing dismissed Kanter’s comments, saying the NBA player was “trying to get attention.”
“Their fallacy is not worth refuting,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
“We welcome all friends from various countries who are impartial and uphold an objective position to visit Tibet.”
“At the same time, we will never accept attacks that discredit the development and progress of Tibet,” he added.
However, Kanter’s comments were widely condemned by users on Chinese social media, where Twitter is blocked.
A Weibo fan page for the Boston Celtics with more than 650,000 followers wrote that it would stop updating its social feed after Kanter’s tweets.
“Any behavior that undermines the harmony of the nation and the dignity of the homeland, we resolutely resist,” wrote the administrator of the page.
On Chinese giant Tencent’s sports website, Celtics games abruptly disappeared from upcoming scheduled live broadcasts.
‘A difference this time’
Tencent’s action comes two years after another state broadcaster CCTV stopped broadcasting the Houston Rockets’ NBA games.
In 2019, then-Rockets general manager Morey tweeted his support for pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. The post was quickly removed, but it sparked an open crisis between the United States and China.
Meanwhile, another sportsman with Turkish roots, footballer Mesut Ozil, was removed from Chinese computer games after he publicly criticized the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China.
Companies like the NBA that operate in China risk losing access to a huge fan market if they connect to political statements. The league has yet to comment.
Kanter’s comments on social media also come as calls grow to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Simon Chadwick, a global professor of the Eurasian sports industry, says the response in China to the Boston Celtics player could be “different this time.”
“Such are the current geopolitical sensitivities between the United States and China that Kanter’s comments could be the spark that lights a much bigger fire,” Professor Chadwick told Euronews.
“The Beijing Winter Olympics are looming and speculation continues that some may boycott the event.”
“A heavy-handed or overly nationalist response could be met with growing calls for athletes not to go to China early next year.”
A history of activism
Enes Kanter has regularly taken a position on political issues, including against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
His father, Mehmet Kanter, was accused of belonging to the movement founded by the preacher Fethullah Gülen and was considered by Ankara as a terrorist.
The academic was acquitted in June 2020 by a Turkish court after denying any link to this movement.
But the basketball player says he has avoided contact with family members in Turkey for years for fear of exposing them to Ankara.
In January 2019, Kanter skipped his team’s trip to London for fear of retaliation for his opposition to Erdogan.
On Tuesday, he shared an image on Twitter of the “10th arrest warrant” that had been issued to him “in the last 4 years.”
“It’s very sad because I want to play basketball and I want to be known as a basketball player,” Kanter said. told Euronews in 2019.
“The Turkish government calls me a terrorist because I speak against the government, which shows that there is no freedom of expression in Turkey.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism