WTA’s Simon reiterates willingness to remove events from China

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Originally published by SBJ on 19 November, 2021

WTA CEO Steve Simon reiterated the tour is “definitely willing to pull our business” in China as the world seeks answers in the disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai, and “deal with all the complications that come with it.” Appearing on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Thursday night, Simon said, “This is certainly bigger than the business. … If anyone wants to question our fortitude behind a statement like that, they can certainly try to. We’re at a crossroads with our relationship, obviously, with China and operating our business over there, there’s no question about it.” Simon called the situation “very sad because we have some amazing relationships over there and have developed some unbelievable programs.” However, Simon concluded, “There’s too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this that we let business, politics, money, dictate what’s right and what’s wrong. … When we have a young person who has the fortitude to step up and make these allegations, knowing full well what the results of that are going to be, for us to not support that and demand justice as we go through it, we have to start as a world making decisions that are based upon right and wrong, period, and we can’t compromise that” (“Erin Burnett OutFront,” CNN, 11/18).

WEIGHING THEIR OPTIONS: Tennis Channel’s Pam Shriver said Simon has “already had key meetings with tournament directors worldwide,” and there have been “literally nonstop meetings about this.” Shriver said “all that women’s tennis has control over right now is to use the leverage that we have and realize that we have other partners that we can partner with that have the same core values as we have.” Shriver could not say when the WTA would cut ties with China, but added, “I just believe Steve Simon when he says that you cannot be partners with somebody that is not treating an athlete with the kind of respect and freedom and dignity that she deserves” (“Cuomo Prime Time,” CNN, 11/18). 

TIME WILL TELL: CNN.com’s Gan & George note with the ’22 Beijing Games less than three months away, analysts said that this controversy, if unresolved, “could snowball into an unprecedented showdown between the wider sports community and Beijing.” The Beijing Games are “already facing growing calls for a boycott over the Chinese government’s crackdown on Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.” NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders Research & Advocacy Coordination William Nee said that the global outcry over the disappearance of Peng — who has played in three Olympics — “can amplify those calls” (CNN.com, 11/19).

STANDING ALONE? In DC, Sally Jenkins writes this situation is a “fact, a contemptible, milk-weak, sordid fact, that the members of the women’s tennis tour have more clean-principled steel when it comes to confronting China” than execs at the IOC, NBA, Proctor & Gamble and Oval Office. It is “not surprising that the WTA would take a stand.” The tour “always has been as much about social justice as enterprise.” What is “disappointing” is the “degree to which its exercise of muscle exposes and disgraces others” (WASHINGTON POST, 11/19).

IOC MISSING OPPORTUNITY: In N.Y., Kurt Streeter writes instead of “firm demands, we’re hearing not much more than faint, servile whispers from Olympic leadership.” Streeter: “What has been the IOC’s response to a potentially endangered Olympian? A neutered, obsequious statement.” IOC President Thomas Bach and his wide cast of leadership “typically use every chance possible to claim the Olympic mission stands for humanity’s highest ideals.” They say that all Olympic athletes are “part of a family.” Peng was among those ranks in ’08, ’12 and ’16. Streeter: “Once an Olympian, they say, always an Olympian. That’s an admirable idea, but it gets tossed to the wayside when the stakes grow too high.” Do Bach and the IOC “have the guts to stand up for one of their own and call out the dictatorial host of its next showcase for a frightening human rights abuse?” The answer, so far at least, “is no” (N.Y. TIMES, 11/19).

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