When US condemns Gu's decision, it betrays its own founding spirit
Published: Feb 13, 2022 05:38 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

As the frenzy around Chinese skier Gu Ailing, also known as Eileen Gu, continues in China, so does the abuse and sarcasm against her from the other side of the Pacific. Some foreign netizens thus noted that Gu's phenomenon formulates the perfect description of the rise of China and the US' reaction to that rise. 

Switching citizenship in sports competition is common internationally, and dates back to long ago. Martin Jacques, a renowned British scholar, tweeted recently that "Back in the Cold War, it was common for Soviet athletes to defect to the West." Some followers later replied, Jacques "gave the real reason why US media is mad at Gu," suggesting a new historical trend at play.

Nothing can better illustrate how the US' self-choreographed mentality and discourse framework backfire than its negative coverage of Gu, with some even painting her as a traitor. The essence of the logic is - how could a US-born athlete dare to choose China over the Anglo country? 

This mentality was shaped during the Cold War, or even earlier. The naturalization of an athlete is, in most cases, a personal decision. But back then, it was made politically significant to disgrace the Soviet Union and non-Western countries. Any athletes who switched nationalities from non-Western countries to the West were described as fleeing from darkness into the light, leaving barbarism to embrace civilization.

When the US is trapped in its own logic to view Gu's choice, all it has found is that it's been slapped in the face.

Such a mentality is not created by China. As long as there is a system in which athletes can acquire the citizenship or nationality of another country, there will be nationality transfers. 

Gu's decision is her personal choice based on her experiences, thoughts and feelings, as well as what the development environment in China can offer her, which makes her willing to compete for China. Chinese people love her so much. But is it because she has strong nationalist sentiment or that she chose to compete for China instead of the US?

Big no. Chinese people love her because of her marvelous skills and talents. More importantly, people adore her inspiring, uplifting spirit, and positive energy. It is human nature to appreciate a strong and charming young athlete. And when such an athlete competes and wins a gold medal for China, we of course are even more proud. 

Globalization, openness, free flow of talents used to be something the West, especially the US, pursued and promoted. But the US' attitude takes a U-turn when it comes to Gu. Quite a few US media outlets and netizens politicized her choice, accusing her of being opportunistic, a tool of totalitarianism, a cold warrior and genocide barbie… sparing no effort to push her into the teeth of the storm in the geopolitical game between China and the US.

If it has mirrored anything, it's the US' lack of self-confidence and anxiety when facing the difference in not only development pace, but also social governance, between the East and the West. 

The fundamental significance of this Olympic Winter Games is showing the sportsmanship of mankind in the face of the ongoing pandemic. Yet obviously, some US media and elites have turned the grand events into a tug of war - about which national flag the athletes are fighting for, a narrow-minded competition among different countries.

The US used to preach globalism to other parts of the world in a condescending manner. But today, it has betrayed such spirit of the US which it often bragged about. The US is a country of immigrants. It is so used to the trend of talent from the rest of the world flowing to and representing the US. If it genuinely believes in the free flow of talent, what's wrong with people choosing the other way? 

When some Americans raised harsh voices on Gu's choice to compete on behalf of China, are they signaling there is only freedom to get into the US, but no freedom to leave? Once upon a time, there was a US that represented the common spirit and wealth of humanity. And some Americans are now betraying it. 

The cauldron design of this year's Olympics is the best portrait of the fate the world confronts. The flame, which symbolizes sports spirit and the unity of mankind, can only survive and last through the solidarity of the entire world. Unity is needed more than anything at the moment, rather than what the US is attempting - splitting the already fractured world by nitpicking an athlete. 

Gu's biracial background and success thrust her into the spotlight. But the 18-year-old girl has given a textbook reply, "I do corks in an icy, 22-foot, U-shaped snow structure. That's not political. It's pushing the human limit and it's connecting people."

The author is a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn