"You've got to check this out!"
I was in the middle of a photoshoot at one of the most beautiful resorts in Los Cabos (I love you, Capella Pedregal!) when I heard this urgent, half-laughing request for me to watch an online video before stepping into our amazing plunge pool. Slightly skeptical it was worth delaying the sprawling views of the private beach below, I impatiently scurried over to the iPad extended to me.
I watched this two-minute video and instantly blurted out, "Talk about cultural diplomacy gone wild!" The now-infamous basketball game brawl between China's military-owned Bayi Rockets and Washington DC's own Georgetown U started out as another sports diplomacy exchange, where two countries meet and display their athletic skills and sportsmanship (or lack thereof, apparently) with fellow sports practioners and fans.
Coinciding with Vice President Joe Biden's visit to China, the State Department probably thought this would enhance the formal political gesture, not completely overshadow it. But let's face it -- no political figure, no matter how high-ranking, stands a chance at competing with punches, kicks, bottle- and chair-throwing at a sports match. This basketball brawl was the face of last week's US-China visit and exchange -- Biden's visit, a little less so.
While the majority of this fiasco's blame can probably be placed upon the Chinese team's own initial aggression (according to most witnesses, including Bayi Rockets fans themselves), the fight only makes the realm of sports diplomacy even more interesting today. Ping pong diplomacy, which was pretty amazing for its time decades ago, simply doesn't represent the current global exchange of sports.
Does this brawl represent China's rise, and its inherent nonchalance (or disrespect) towards its Western frenemy? Not really, considering that fights within the Bayi Rockets schedule are not that rare no matter who they are playing against. Besides, is there really any sport that has escaped a physical altercation here and there? Even less strenuous sports like baseball have their fair share of fights, albeit sometimes awkward and silly looking (I'm thinking of that long run that has to happen before the pitcher and batter can actually swing blows).
Fights are competitive and we should expect the unexpected when it comes to fights within sporting events, which are formal competitions already. The two teams said their goodbyes after their heated exchange, but hopefully both the US and China now have a poignant reminder that what is anticipated on paper does not necessarily pan out on the streets (or in this case, the courts).
A bigger worry for the State Department is the ongoing protest by 400 foreign student workers in a cultural exchange program with a vendor for the Hershey Company in Pennsylvania. In the US on J-1 visas, the allegations these students have made do not put a pretty spotlight on the exchange program nor the all-American Hershey company. They complain of doing crazy box lifting all day, having to pay higher than average corporate housing fees (for crowded and unsanitary living conditions), and then having to survive in the US on sometimes a meager $40 per week!
We'll see how this situation ends up, but it's a horrible look for the program itself so far. This is more like cultural diplomacy gone bad, because I doubt that the aim of this exchange was to show students from China, Africa and Eastern Europe just how bad the economic situation in America truly is for its own citizens.
But that basketball fight, wow...it was brought up several times in Mexico after the video was released. People just love stuff like that, don't they? Nothing better than having technology to keep up with these things, even when you're on vacation!