The Women’s Tennis Association isn’t a world superpower. It doesn’t carry the weight of the International Olympic Committee. It doesn’t have the resources or clout to push back on a repressive regime.
So why is it that Steve Simon, CEO of the tennis association, is willing to take a stand over the virtual disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai when the IOC refuses and the White House is dithering?
On Nov. 2, Peng used a now-deleted post on social media to accuse a top Chinese Communist Party official — former Vice Premier Zang Gaoli — of sexually assaulting her. She was quickly whisked from public view. When she reappeared in carefully arranged settings, those appearances made hostage-tape confessions look natural by comparison.
For instance, consider an email she supposedly sent to Simon, released by Chinese state network CGTN.
In the email, Peng supposedly assures the world that she’s “not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has sent an email to Steve Simon, the WTA Chairman & CEO, CGTN has learned. The email reads: pic.twitter.com/uLi6Zd2jDI
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) November 17, 2021
“Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai.
“Regarding the recent news released on the official web site of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent,” the statement began.
Besides the language sounding more than a little stilted (Peng is proficient in English, according to The New York Times), one thing everyone noticed is that someone apparently forgot to take a cursor mark out of the word “and” — making the image appear obviously faked.
However, some speculated leaving the cursor in the pic was the message: That Chinese officials are telling the world they can make people disappear and they don’t even have to hide it.
Whatever the case, for the moment, Simon is done dealing with Chinese authorities. According to The Associated Press, in a Saturday statement, the WTA head said the organization “remains deeply concerned” Peng “is not free from censorship or coercion” and won’t be re-engaging with her until it’s certain she’s able to answer on her own accord.
“Steve Simon has reached out to Peng Shuai via various communication channels,” the statement read.
“He has sent her two emails, to which it was clear her responses were influenced by others. He remains deeply concerned that Peng is not free from censorship or coercion and decided not to re-engage via email until he was satisfied her responses were her own, and not those of her censors,” the statement continued.
“The WTA remains concerned about her ability to communicate freely, openly, and directly.”
Backing the 35-year-old Peng is likely going to cost the WTA millions in revenue from China, something women’s tennis can’t absorb as easily as, say, the Olympics or the NBA. So why is he the only one willing to call Peng’s situation what it obviously is?
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Nov. 19 that the administration was “deeply concerned” over Peng’s disappearance and asked for “independent, verifiable proof” that she was free from coercion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Biden administration is ‘deeply concerned’ about reports that Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has gone missing.
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) November 19, 2021
However, a substantive response from the administration has been lacking so far.
That’s been pretty much the state of play for the entirety of the Biden administration so far when it comes to credible allegations of human rights abuses by China.
While former President Donald Trump’s administration accused the Beijing regime of “genocide” over its treatment of ethnic minority Uyghur Muslims — not to mention the crushing of dissent in Hong Kong, among other charming activities — the Biden White House has other priorities.
President Joe Biden said a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, opening in February, is “something we’re considering.”
The United States is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, President Joe Biden confirmed, a move that would be aimed at protesting China’s human rights record https://t.co/abiUoQIfUQ pic.twitter.com/c3k2d2GH0I
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 18, 2021
A diplomatic boycott is barely a boycott at all.
While no U.S. officials would travel to the Games, athletes and sponsors would be present. That’s hardly a rebuke to the CCP — and what’s more, it doesn’t guarantee the safety of U.S. athletes. This is assuming the White House goes through with it, too; as of now, that’s no guarantee.
Even that’s better than the response from the IOC, however, which has been nothing short of shameful.
On Nov. 21, according to CNN, the IOC said president Thomas Bach had a 30-minute video conference with Peng, who was joined by a Chinese official. After the meeting, an IOC statement said — and you’ll never believe this — that Peng seemed to be “doing fine,” was “relaxed” and “would like to have her privacy respected.”
The IOC leaders, in short, hope you’re every bit as gullible as China’s propaganda mills — or, like CGTN apparently, they want you to know they don’t care. The Games will go on, no matter how many crimes against humanity the host country is committing.
The Olympics should never have been awarded to China in the first place and the Games should have been revoked or boycotted once the size and scope of the Uyghur genocide became obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention.
Can you blame the IOC, though? After all, the White House can’t even commit itself to even a toothless diplomatic boycott at the same time that the WTA is calling China out for its lies.
Think about it for a second: The WTA is showing moral gumption when the leader of the world’s most powerful nation couldn’t look more impotent. When Joe Biden — or, for that matter, the IOC — should be leading, we’re left to look to Steve Simon, instead.
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