The Head of Women’s Tennis On His Fight for a Chinese Star Who’s Been Missing Since Her Sexual Assault Claim

Steve Simon, the CEO and chairman of the Ladies’s Tennis Affiliation (WTA), says he’s tried to talk instantly with Peng Shuai, the tennis professional from China who’s has hasn’t been seen or heard from since she accused former vice premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault on Nov. 2. He has requested sources on the Chinese language Tennis Affiliation to attach him with Shuai, a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion who in 2011 was ranked as excessive as No. 14 on the planet in singles. The WTA has reached out on to Peng, 35. Up to now, these efforts have proved fruitless.
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“We have now labored each technique accessible to us,” says Simon. “Voice, digital, tweeting. WeChat. WhatsApp. Textual content. There are many totally different messaging issues all of us use and are all capable of talk with. And none of these have produced a outcome as of this level.”

In line with Simon, Chinese language Tennis Affiliation sources have assured Simon that Peng is secure, and never underneath any bodily menace, in Beijing. However Simon wish to hear this account from Peng herself. “I’ll stay apprehensive till I’m able to communicate along with her, or she speaks with any individual in our group, whomever she’s comfy with,” says Simon. “In order that we might be assured that she’s OK and the place she’s at. And that she is aware of we’re right here to help her in any means that we are able to. That’s our primary precedence. The opposite issues are secondary.”

After calling for an official investigation, Simon has threatened to maneuver all WTA tournaments—altogether value billions of {dollars} in enterprise to the WTA, China, and different stakeholders—out of China if the nation’s governing our bodies don’t comply.

A tennis star’s accusation

The WTA must be basking within the glow of the its season-ending occasion, the WTA Finals, which is going down in Guadalajara, Mexico after officers moved the occasion from Shenzhen, China because of COVID-19. As a substitute Simon—in addition to many followers and gamers—are preoccupied with the security of Peng, whose account of her alleged assault was deleted from Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, after half-hour.

In her submit, Peng admitted that she has “no proof” past her personal phrase to show her accusations outright, however referred to as her expertise with Zhang Gaoli “very actual.” When Agence France-Press inquired concerning the allegations, overseas ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian mentioned: “I’ve not heard of the problem you raised,” and added that “this isn’t a diplomatic query.”

Simon, the WTA CEO, tells TIME in an interview from Guadalajara that he senses Peng is telling the reality. “It’s fairly exhausting for me to consider that a person who has skilled that and comes from a rustic and an atmosphere during which she does goes to return forth with these allegations, and them not be true,” he says. “Nevertheless, all people deserves the story. And that’s why you need to have an investigation. And regardless of the investigation produces is what you need to help on the finish of the day. However you realize, it’s fairly exhausting to not go into this simply emotionally and consider what’s being mirrored.”

Peng’s disappearance has shaken the tennis neighborhood. “I’m in shock of the present state of affairs,” Naomi Osaka wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, “and I’m sending love and light-weight her means. #whereispengshuai.” Simon is carefully monitoring the state of affairs in China from Mexico. “All people is aware of how one can come up with all people,” Simon says. “It’s not exhausting to speak with individuals. We will’t communicate along with her. And may’t attain her. There isn’t a response. There’s clearly a degree of censorship there.”

On Nov. 14, the WTA launched an announcement saying that the group anticipated China to deal with this situation “correctly, which means the allegations should be investigated absolutely, pretty, transparently and with out censorship.” Since this incident considerations a sexual assault allegation by one among its personal gamers, Simon has felt emboldened to take a stronger stance, threatening to take the WTA Finals—and different tournaments deliberate for China—to everlasting houses in Mexico or different locales if Peng isn’t quickly accounted for, and if her accusations aren’t completely vetted. “Ought to we discover that what we’re asking for can’t occur or is not going to occur,” says Simon, “we’re ready to now not do enterprise inside the area and transfer ahead.”

China’s tennis rise

Because the emergence of gamers like Peng, who reached the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Open as a singles participant, and Li Na—a two-time Grand Slam champion, having gained the 2011 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open—tennis’ recognition has spiked in China. In 2018, the WTA signed a long-term deal to maneuver the WTA Finals to Shenzhen; prize cash for the event doubled from $7 million to $14 million. Simon says organizers in Shenzhen have dedicated to investing greater than $1 billion within the occasion, together with a brand new stadium. (Earlier than transferring it to Mexico this 12 months, WTA cancelled the 2020 occasion because of COVID). China was imagined to host 11 tournaments earlier than COVID cancellations in 2021; Simon tells TIME there are plans to carry 10 occasions in China in 2022. Sports activities Illustrated reported that China is liable for a 3rd of the WTA’s income; whereas Simon calls that determine “an overstatement,” China is clearly a high precedence for the WTA. “We do understand loads of income from China,” says Simon. “The WTA model resonated and has introduced nice worth to [China]. And it’s introduced nice worth to us.”

However worldwide sports activities organizations just like the WTA are experiencing the fraught dynamics of doing enterprise in China. Whereas the nation, with its market measurement of greater than 1.4 billion individuals—lots of them keen about sports activities—affords a chance to spice up world income, China’s file of human rights violations leaves sports activities our bodies open to criticism of complicity. The Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC), which selected Beijing to host the upcoming Winter Olympics in February, has remained largely mum on China’s persecution of Uyghurs residing within the western Xinjiang province. (The IOC didn’t reply to TIME’s request for touch upon Peng’s state of affairs in China.) After former Houston Rockets common supervisor Daryl Morey tweeted his help for Hong Kong protestors in October 2019, angering China, the NBA initially mentioned it was “regrettable” that Chinese language followers discovered Morey’s tweet offensive, and that it had “nice respect for the historical past and tradition of China.” After appreciable backlash—together with from each Democratic and Republican American politicians—NBA commissioner Adam Silver put out a stronger assertion supporting free speech.

So is that this WTA boldness too little too late? China’s human rights file was no secret when the WTA signed the cope with Shenzhen in 2018; the group might have withheld occasions within the nation, or already moved to drag out. “It’s Time For The WTA To Cease Doing Enterprise In China,” learn one current headline in Sports activities Illustrated.

“That displays the simple means out,” says Simon. “China is a giant a part of our world. They deserve an opportunity to do the correct factor right here. And in the event that they don’t, then we’ll should decide.”

Simon wants China to provide information and findings. “If it’s a easy, ‘belief me, we took care of it,’ that’s most likely not going to be ample.” he says. Earlier than any investigation, nevertheless, Peng should be accounted for. “I don’t need to let this overshadow the truth that we’ve a participant who we are able to’t come up with,” says Simon. “Who we expect is secure, however we are able to’t attain her. That’s a reasonably scary factor.”



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