“In all conscience, I don’t know how I could ask our players to play in the country where Peng Shuai is not allowed to speak freely “. The WTA threat, in the air for weeks, has become a reality. Steve Simon, the president of the association of professional tennis players has decided to cancel all tournaments planned in China and Hong Kong in 2022, ten in all, including the Wta Finals that were initially planned in Shenzen until 2030, after an agreement of tens of millions of euros signed at the end of 2018. “Even though we know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that the woman is free, safe and not subject to censorship or intimidation,” wrote Simon in a press release, adding: “The WTA has been clear, we need transparent investigations into the allegations of sexual abuse suffered by Peng Shuai.”
An international case
On November 2, the thirty-five-year-old former Chinese tennis player, number one in doubles in 2014, accused former deputy minister Zang Ghaoli of sexual abuse in a long post published on the social media Weibo. “Like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth on a flame, going into self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you,” he wrote. The post had been deleted less than half an hour after its publication and from then on, the woman’s track has been lost for weeks.. Simon, despite numerous attempts, has since never been able to contact the former doubles champion of Wimbledon and Roland Garros. The hashtag #WhereisPengShuai it went viral and involved the tennis community and beyond, with appeals from the United States Congress, the UN, Amnesty International and the European Union, as well as threats of diplomatic boycotts. After 13 days of unsuccessful attempts, on November 15 China Global Television Network, a channel controlled by the central government in Beijing, posted a tweet with the contents of an email addressed to Steve Simon by Shuai in which the former tennis player reassured the recipient on his state of health: “I’m fine and I’m safe. I’m resting at home and everything is ok. The news of the sexual abuse is false. Thank you for taking care of me,” the email read. In response , the WTA has published another note from Simon: “It’s hard to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote that email. We need independent and certain proof that he is well and safe. Women’s voices must be heard and respected, not censored “.
“A story bigger than any business”
On the one hand there is the WTA, which considers Peng Shuai’s safety more important than any business, on the other there is the International Olympic Committee, which two months before the start of the Beijing Winter Games, calls on the issue to maintain a “calm diplomacy“A suggestion that Simon responded with these words:” Too many times in the world, in matters like this, we let business, politics or money tell us what is right or what is wrong. Instead, we must start making choices based on what is right and what is wrong, without compromising ”. In 2019, before the pandemic, China hosted nine WTA tournaments, also winning the Finals, the most important event on the circuit. “In Shenzen we have a huge opportunity to grow. I believe that this area is the Silicon Valley of Asia, a growing region and we are proud to be part of this growth”, Simon announced after concluding the event. agreement with the Chinese government, in 2018, which provided for doubled prize money for the Finals and an investment of hundreds of millions of euros to continue to grow Made in China tennis. Peng Shuai’s disappearance blew the bank, and analysts estimated that the cancellation of tournaments in Asia will cause the WTA to lose about $ 1 billion effectively nullifying years and years of investments and diplomatic relations. An economic loss taken into account by the president of the WTA who said he was ready to accept all the consequences of the case, putting the well-being of the players before business.
The video call with the president of the IOC
Evidently the Chinese government’s reassurances were not enough for the WTA, the photos in which the woman appeared smiling at the restaurant, at an award ceremony, in unidentified places and times (“photos that show that Peng Shuai is alive, not that she is free”, commented the lawyer Teng Biao). It was not even enough video call on November 21 between Peng Shuai and IOC president Thomas Bach and the invitation to meet for dinner next February on the occasion of the opening of the Winter Games. “He is well and in good health”, the president of the IOC athletes commission Emma Tarho had reassured at the end of the first video call, which was followed on Wednesday by another one as stated by a official press release in which the Olympic Committee says it will continue to support her and worry about her condition. But Bach’s attempts at reassurance and calm diplomacy seem to have failed given the latest move in women’s tennis. “It is more urgent than ever that people raise their voices. The WTA will do everything possible to protect its players. And just like us, I I hope that leaders around the world do the same to make sure that justice is done for Peng and for all women, regardless of the economic consequences “, reads the note of 1 December, which continues as follows:” I am sorry to have reached this point. But until China does what we have asked for, we cannot put the players and their staff at risk by organizing events in the country. Chinese leaders have left us no choice. “
China: “No to sport politicization”
Simon’s stance has been liked by the world of tennis, from Martina Navratilova to Roberta Vinci, the players gave full support to the president, including Novak Djokovic she called the decision to suspend women’s events in China right. Billie Jean King commented: “The WTA is on the right side of history. This is one of the many reasons why women’s tennis is a leader among sports. ”And while the Chinese government expressed indignation at the WTA and its unilateral decisions, declaring through Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin that China is firmly against ” any politicization of sport” e threatening legal action to enforce agreements, women’s tennis goes its own way without compromise. For the moment the tennis players are the first and they are alone, no other organization has followed the WTA, the ATP, the men’s circuit association has asked to investigate Pang’s safety, but there has been no news of boycotts on China since part of men’s tennis. As the statement reads, women have no intention of backing down: “If people in power can silence the voices of women and sweep away allegations of sexual violence, then, the basis on which the WTA is founded, the equality, it would suffer an immense setback. We do not want and cannot allow this to happen. “