AdvertisementWhat's behind the WTA and Steve Simon's aggressive stance on China.

What’s behind the WTA and Steve Simon’s aggressive stance on China.

Bing Shuai made it clear that she knew the risks.

“Even if it’s like hitting a stone with an egg, and wooing to self-destruct like a moth to a flame, I’ll tell the truth about you,” tennis player Books near the end Hinge Another Weibo Former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli is accused of sexual misconduct. The 35-year-old Peng’s indictment, which was made early this month, was the most high-profile in China since the start of the #MeToo movement.

It is clear that the Chinese regime saw Ping’s message as a threat. Her Weibo post was deleted within minutes, and searches for her name were blocked. It also became clear very quickly that Peng herself was in danger. When attempts to get the former world number 1 doubles head-to-head proved unsuccessful, WTA CEO Steve Simon called on the Chinese authorities. “We expect this case to be handled properly, which means that the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without oversight,” Simon said. “Our absolute and consistent priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so that justice can be done.”

When the Chinese state-run media released a brazenly false statement attributed to Bing – “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine” – Simon B.S. “The statement issued today by the Chinese state media regarding Peng Shuai raises my concerns about her safety and whereabouts,” he said of the statement she received via email from one of her accounts.

By describing the lies and obstruction of the Chinese government, Simon was in many ways simply stating the obvious. But his desire to do so, in the realm of corporate leadership, is both radical and transcendental.

In recent days, several other prominent organizations with stakes in the Chinese sports business have declared their interest in Bing’s safety, but without using the words “China” or “Chinese”. The International Tennis Federation, another major governing body for tennis, has been introduced A one-sentence statement: “Player safety is always our top priority and we support a full and transparent investigation into this matter.” The International Olympic Committee, which makes up the International Tennis Federation, has reiterated its commitment to silence, with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing looming just months away. “Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best chance of finding a solution to issues like this,” the IOC said. This explains why the IOC has not commented further at this point. “

From a purely financial perspective, silence is understandable. The NBA lost an estimated $150 to $200 million after that – Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the Hong Kong protesters. That loss came even after league and management players pulled out to protect cash flow from a lucrative secondary market. Turkish player Enis Kanter is one of the few who have spoken so openly about Buying Silence.

As Kanter causes trouble from the bench, Simon leads his round from the helm, heading straight for the rocks. Rather than sending a non-political message that he hopes to preserve his personal safety, he has cited the Chinese government’s involvement as the cause of his suspicions and fears.

“when I saw [Peng’s supposed email] Simon told CNN reporter Erin Burnett on Thursday: in an interview Which Burnett said was blacked out on her Chinese radio shows. “Whether she was forced to write it or someone wrote it to her, we don’t know, but at this point I don’t think there’s any truth to that, and we won’t feel comfortable until we have had the opportunity to speak with her directly and make sure she knows we’re worried about her, and that We have the ability to provide support to any level you want and these allegations definitely need to be fully and properly investigated and without any level of oversight.”

When a new round of messages came out from China’s state-run media on Saturday, Bing is shown eating at a restaurant with friends in videos And pictures allegedly taken that day – the man speaking to Peng in the video plainly saying “November 20” during their clearly canned conversation – Simon was not satisfied again. “While seeing her is positive, it remains unclear whether she is free and able to make decisions and take action on her own, without coercion or outside influence. This video alone is not enough.”

Simon knows that his honesty can cost the WTA millions. He said that wouldn’t change his mind. “We, as a scientist, have to start making decisions based on the period of right and wrong,” he told Burnett. “We can’t compromise on that, and we’re certainly willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with that. Because that’s bigger than business.”

Simon’s position is particularly notable given that growth in China has been the hallmark strategy of his six-year tenure as CEO of the WTA. The WTA under the leadership of its predecessor, Stacey Allister, began responding to Li Na’s groundbreaking victory at the 2011 French Open with a heavy push into China, earning the organization the title of “WTAsia”. Although the 2022 calendar had not yet been released, the WTA was preparing to play 10 tournaments in China next season. This includes the WTA 1000 elite events in Wuhan and Beijing and the year-end championships in Shenzhen. When Simon and the WTA announced their 10-year agreement with Shenzhen in 2018, the annual $14 million purse prize dwarfed the equivalent men’s event in London.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us” about a deal he described as a “more than $1 billion commitment” to women’s tennis in the region, Simon told the New York Times in 2018. “It would allow us to do some things like touring and invest with long-term vision and planning, we’ve never had that opportunity before.”

The first event in Shenzhen, in 2019, made headlines for $4.42 million won to star Ashleigh Barty, but was overshadowed by crackdowns on protests in neighboring Hong Kong. “More stories like this will be revealed over the coming weeks, months and years,” wrote Tomaini Karaiol of the Guardian. “Questions will be asked about the position of the WTA and how much his money means to him. The organization will be judged accordingly.”

Whether or not the WTA was right to partner with China in the first place, the tour’s verdict was crystal clear this month. Simon’s leadership encouraged others. On Friday in Turin, Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked player in men’s tennis, called Peng’s disappearance “terrifying” and called on the men’s tour to take a similarly aggressive stance. “This is necessary for us to take any measures,” Djokovic said. “The WTA is willing to withdraw from China in all tournaments unless this matter is resolved; I support that 100 per cent.”

The #WhereIsPengShuai protests are gaining momentum in the wider political world – including from the United Nations and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki– Simon stated that “the WTA is at a crossroads in China.” Friday wrote Letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States To demand that she speak to Bing “live with me on the phone with no one else around” and “investigate her allegations fairly, completely, transparently and without oversight.” Failure to do so, he wrote, “will have no choice but to seriously consider whether we can play in China again.”

In some ways, this “crossroads” arrives at the perfect time to leave the Women’s Tour of China. No international sporting events have been held there since the pandemic began, allowing for some clean rest. And although Emma Raducano, a British teenager who just won the US Open, has been described as one of the most marketable athletes in the world due in part to her Chinese heritage, the game is currently lacking in stars of Bing or Li caliber who play under Chinese flag. There are currently no Chinese players in the top 50 of the WTA singles rankings and only three in the top 100: No. 63 Zhang Shuai, No. 80 Zheng Saisai and No. 99 Wang Xinyu.

On Wednesday, hours after the bogus statement attributed to Peng was subpoenaed in Chinese state media, Simon stood before a court in Guadalajara, as the WTA Finals moved out of Shenzhen due to the pandemic. The prize purse dropped from $14 million to $5 million, but the stands were full, in sharp contrast to the empty stadiums often played by tour stars during Chinese tourist attractions. On either side of Simon, a festive mariachi band played while Garbine Muguruza raised the trophy in front of a cheering crowd. For at least one week, women’s tennis without China has been looking pretty good.

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