While the tennis world is obsessed with Emma Raducanu’s coach, results and Guadalajara reunions in Turin, we are in a real crisis. In small strokes. Last week on November 2, recently retired WTA veteran Peng Shuai took to Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, tell the story of Zhang Gaoli’s sexual assault, former senior member of the Chinese Communist Party.
The account has since been deleted and comments have been disabled. And no one in China can read about it. Any reference to this question, which has been covered everywhere since the BBC To The New York Times To Al Jazeera– has been deleted from Chinese search engines. And now comes new that Shuai has “disappeared”, which would be in accordance with China’s treatment of prominent dissidents. It is deeply disturbing and worrying. It’s terrible for Shuai, whose safety is paramount.
It’s a huge crisis for the WTA Tour. It’s also a huge opportunity for the WTA Tour.
It’s no secret that doing business in China and with China can be – and often is – deeply problematic. Ask Apple. Ask Nike. Ask the NBA. Ask NBC, who is to negotiate how and if it wants to tackle human rights abuses, the Uyghur genocide and life-time appointments during its Olympic coverage. (Bob Costas will tell you that is why he chose not to be on the cover.) The 2008 Beijing Games which were supposed to liberalize China made his regime even more brazen by rejecting liberal democracy and rights. of man.
We all have different outrage thresholds. Businesses and humans know how to stick their noses and rationalize bad deeds, especially when there is money to be made. In tennis, however, we are at a different point. It is not just about massive human rights violations and something systemically worrying. He is about a player – a long-time veteran, high-profile and much-loved – caught in the gears and who is said to have “disappeared”. How, in all conscience, let alone in good conscience, can the WTA continue to engage here? How can actors who have global brands and who have admirably used their platform to credibly talk about other forms of social justice comply?
The WTA needs to ask itself a simple question: what does this represent? What is its purpose ? If it’s just to maximize revenue, he’ll stay in China, where a dozen events take place, more than in any other country. If the WTA has terms beyond mercenary, it must demand transparency and action. And be ready to go out, to stop doing business in a country so out of alignment with its so-called mission. Well done to Steve Simon for saying so much, to The New York Times: “We would be prepared to take this step and not operate in China. “ Now for the rest …
Leaving China will be expensive. Ash Barty won more money in the 2019 WTA Finals in Shenzhen than the entire purse for this year’s event. I am told that China is responsible for at least a third of the WTA’s revenue. Yet leaving China also sets the WTA apart on its principles. What a statement that would send, especially a few months away from the Winter Olympics. What a way to say: âThe safety and / or moral principles of our athletes – our belief in women’s rights, human rights and democracy – matter more than our records.
This marks a real moment of truth and calculation for the WTA. Here’s a pep talk: believe in your product. Believe in your players. Believe in your international appeal. Believe the market will reward the backbone.