When Woke Doesn’t Matter For Female Athletes

Legacy media and American sports stars like to talk about how terrible and flawed the USA is and how they claim certain people are oppressed. But let’s look at a few instances of actual oppression by a government or ruling class, specifically towards female athletes.

Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and a nation that oppresses and suppresses its people to exert evil worldwide. The heartbreaking news of the death of Mahsa Amini in Iranian police custody for wearing her hijab too loosely led to outrage and protests throughout Iran and the world. Women and schoolgirls were taking off their hijabs and protesting.

Most recently, Iranian professional rock climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in South Korea without her hijab as a sign of disobedience.  A global freedom movement has been sparked and crossed over into international sports competitions.

The fear for Rekabi’s safety was immediate, but she safely made it home to Iran, where a cheering crowd greeted her at the airport. Rekabi, almost immediately after returning to Iran, said that not wearing her head covering was a mistake.

A woman looks at a screen displaying a video of an international climbing competition in Seoul, South Korea, during which Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competes without a hijab which is forbidden for Iranian female athletes.
A woman looks at a screen displaying a video of an international climbing competition in Seoul, South Korea, during which Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competes without a hijab which is forbidden for Iranian female athletes. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

With totalitarian regimes, those who speak out quickly recant due to pressure from their government. Now it is being reported that Elnaz has had her cell phone confiscated and is under house arrest for breaking Iranian law that requires women representing Iran in competitions to wear a hijab.

This is not the first time an authoritarian regime has had a female athlete take a stance publicly against their government and then have quickly recanted. Peng Shuai, a female Chinese tennis player, publicly accused a top Chinese leader of sexually assaulting her. Shuai went missing after her public declaration, and after tremendous international pressure, Chinese state media shared a statement that claimed to have been written by Shuai denying the assault allegation.

It is believed to have been staged in response to that global outcry. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) responded by suspending tournaments in China, but those games in China are set to return in 2023, and concerns about Peng’s safety and freedom remain.

Shuai Peng of China plays a backhand during her Women's Doubles first round match with partner Shuai Zhang of China in the 2020 Australian Open.
Shuai Peng of China plays a backhand during her Women’s Doubles first round match with partner Shuai Zhang of China in the 2020 Australian Open. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

These mega-sports organizations, like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WTA, are turning a blind eye to human rights atrocities. Sports are entertainment, and entertainment means money. The larger the market opportunity for every sport, the bigger the revenue opportunities. These two women are fighting for their lives as the international community puts appeasement and money ahead of human rights.

The World Tennis Association demanded a transparent and thorough investigation into Shuai’s disappearance. It didn’t get it and will return to China in under two years with nothing to show for its attempt to protect a female athlete. It seems that anything is fair game in sports to make a profit.

Companies will continue to do business in China. Iran will continue to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Women will continue to vanish in both countries, including famous ones whose faces are known and will likely never be seen again. What these countries do to their most well-known citizens and female athletes should be a warning sign of the reality for every other woman in China and Iran.

The international community, including businesses, athletes, and countries, must stand together and say, “enough is enough.” The IOC should not select a country with known human rights abuses to host the Olympics.

Companies that demand fidelity to wokeness in the United States and standing with left-leaning causes should never do business in countries with human rights abuses when they lecture Americans about topics they would never broach in those human rights abusive nations.

The hypocrisy is palpable when multiple international female athletes are missing. In the United States, the same businesses that support the Olympics do business in China and sponsor the WTA.

They demand we celebrate their woke project of the moment but remain silent and do not use the power of their purses to hold oppressive regimes accountable.

For the lives of Rekabi and Shuai, we need to demand better of our sports leagues and our businesses to be true leaders of global equality and women’s rights, not just require that only of Americans.

Written by Erin Perrine

Vice President TAG strategies and former Deputy Communications Director for President Donald Trump

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