12/03 06:54 CST Column: Women's tennis leads lonely fight for human rights
Column: Women's tennis leads lonely fight for human rights
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Columnist
If Thomas Bach or Adam Silver need some pointers on standing up for human
rights instead of the bottom line, they should give a call to Steve Simon over
at the women's tennis tour.
Finally, someone picked right over the almighty yuan.
Treading courageously into territory that Bach's International Olympic
Committee and Silver's NBA steadfastly avoided --- not to mention other sports
organizations and countless corporate giants --- the WTA suspended its
tournaments in China because of concern for Grand Slam doubles champion Peng
Simon, the WTA's president and CEO, is all alone on Backbone Island, taking a
stance that will undoubtedly deliver a huge financial blow to an organization
that had been a major player in the lucrative Chinese market.
Don't expect anyone else to follow.
Simon conceded as much, stressing that he wasn't trying to influence the
decisions made by other sports or governing bodies.
But his organization had to take a stand, he said, after Peng accused a former
top Communist Party official of sexual assault.
"I'm not looking to send a message to any other sport bodies or influence their
decisions or evaluate their decisions," Simon said. "I think it goes beyond
that, into obviously something very, very sensitive on a worldwide basis for
women, in general. So, as the leading women's sports organization, and having a
direct effect on this, we're focused on that."
Peng's well-being has been a source of worldwide concern for the past month,
with current and former players calling on the Chinese authorities to let her
Her sexual assault allegations were quickly redacted from Chinese social media
and she dropped out of public view, other than making a few carefully
orchestrated appearances that appear to be nothing more than propaganda staged
by an authoritarian regime.
With the Winter Olympics set to open in Beijing in two months, the IOC was best
positioned to take on the Chinese.
But Bach wasn't about to mess with his billion-dollar boondoggle, so he's
gladly played along with a pair of government-arranged video calls to Peng that
were supposed to assuage the international outcry but instead make her sound
more like a hostage.
Longtime IOC member Dick Pound weighed in as well, though he might as well have
been auditioning to become a Chinese government spokesman when he said everyone
in the organization believes Peng is "fine."
"These are people who have dealt with athletes and dealt with pressure," Pound
told CNN in an interview. "They can tell whether somebody is behaving under
duress or not.
"Their unanimous conclusion was that she was fine. And she just asked that her
privacy be respected for the time being."
Of course, Bach and the IOC are merely mimicking the blueprint laid out by the
NBA, which faced a backlash from China --- its biggest foreign market --- after
former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent out a tweet in 2019
supporting anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
A leader in the fight for social justice in America, the NBA treaded far more
cautiously with the Chinese.
The league called the uproar over Morey's tweet "regrettable" and spent the
past two years trying to patch up a financial hit that Silver estimated at
hundreds of million of dollars.
The WTA doesn't have nearly the financial clout of the IOC or the NBA, but it
still chose to confront the Chinese over Peng's whereabouts.
The governing body says it will not back down until it gets to speak with Peng
directly and the government agrees to a full and impartial investigation of her
That stance is one of the bravest in sports history, right up there with
Muhammad Ali refusing induction during the Vietnam War, Tommie Smith and John
Carlos raising a fist at the 1968 Summer Olympics, and Colin Kaepernick taking
a knee for social justice.
"The WTA is on the right side of history in supporting our players," tennis
pioneer Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter. "This is another reason why women's
tennis is the leader in women's sports."
Simon was quick to point out this wasn't one person's decision. He said he had
the full backing of the WTA board, players, tournaments and sponsors in a
decision that could extend beyond 2022.
This is no small gesture, for sure. The WTA holds about 10 tournaments annually
in China, including the season-ending Tour Finals, which are scheduled to be
staged there for a decade.
"I don't know how to give you a number of what the actual effect will be, but
it will be millions of dollars, for sure," Simon said. "And it's something that
we're going to have to manage and work our way through. But I'm confident we'll
find a way to manage and work our way through it."
Sadly, no one else is willing to follow --- not even in the world of tennis.
The International Tennis Federation, which oversees Grand Slam tournaments and
other events globally, and the CEO of the men's ATP Tour both issued statements
Neither made any mention of China or the WTA suspension.
The right side of history can be a lonely place.
Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to
him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and check
out his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports