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18 Jan, 2022 11:26

NBA co-owner backtracks after saying ‘no one cares’ about Uighur Muslims

Billionaire CEO Chamath Palihapitiya claimed that nobody cares about the Chinese ethnic group
NBA co-owner backtracks after saying ‘no one cares’ about Uighur Muslims

Chamath Palihapitiya, part-owner of the NBA franchise the Golden State Warriors, has retracted comments on Uighur Muslims in China.

China has faced persistent accusations of mistreating its Uighur population, including allegations of sending more than a million of the group to detention camps.

While the ruling Communist Party denies the allegations, Warriors part-owner and Social Capital head Palihapitiya controversially claimed on an appearance on the All-In Podcast that "nobody cares about what’s happening" to the Uighurs.

"I'm telling you a very hard ugly truth," Palihapitiya claimed during a debate.

"Of all the things that I care about, it is below my line.

"You bring it up because you really care, and I think that's nice that you care, [but] the rest of us don't care," he added to fellow host Jason Calacanis, before saying the Uighurs just aren't a priority for him above what are more pressing domestic issues in his view. 

"If you're asking me, do I care about a segment of a class of people in another country? Not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us," said Palihapitiya, a Sri-Lankan born venture capitalist who moved to Canada as a refugee aged five and rose to help buy the Warriors, where he remains a minority stakeholder and board member, for $450 million in 2010. 

"Human rights in the US is way more important to me than human rights anywhere else on the globe," he stressed, while pointing to the amount of black and brown males incarcerated at five times the rate of their white counterparts across the country.

After the remarks, the Warriors released a Twitter statement distancing themselves from the "limited investor who has no day-to-day operating functions with the Warriors."

"Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don't reflect those of our organization," added the six-time NBA champions.

Amid a widespread backlash, the 45-year-old has also had to put his tail between his legs and apologize for the outburst that has already been seen close to 3 million times online.

"In re-listening to this week's podcast, I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy," began Palihapitiya in a short statement. "I acknowledge that entirely."

"As a refugee, my family fled a country with its own set of human rights issues so this is something that is very much a part of my lived experience. To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere. Full stop," he finished.

The US is spearheading a diplomatic boycott of next month's Winter Games in China, in protest at the country's human rights record. 

Though basketball is not played at the Winter Olympics, which kick off on February 4, other NBA figures have waded into the topic of the treatment of Uighur Muslims and issues related to China, where basketball enjoys huge popularity.

Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom called on the league to take a stand against Beijing, while then-Houston Rockets General Manager and current Philadelphia 76ers basketball operations president Daryl Morey also tweeted support for Hong Kong protestors in a 2020 controversy that NBA commissioner Adam Silver claimed could cost the league $400 million.

A reluctance from the elite championship to challenge China is thought to be related to such financial hits and the country's past preparedness to cut ties with any franchises, such as the Rockets, that have players or executives who have spoken out against it.

Kanter's Freedom group shared the Palihapitiya clip on Twitter, writing: "When the NBA says we stand for justice, don’t forget there are those who sell their soul for money and business like the owner of the Warriors, who says 'Nobody cares about what’s happening to the [Uighurs]'.

"When genocides happen, it is people like this that let it happen. Shame!" he scathed.