“None of this is acceptable, nor can it be acceptable,” he said in a statement. “If powerful people can suppress women’s voices and sweep accusations of sexual assault under the rug, then the foundation on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer a huge setback. I will not and can not let that happen to the WTA and its players. “
Simon threatened to withdraw tournaments from China if he could not contact her independently, and when this condition was not met, he followed up the threat. The WTA on Thursday suspended operations in its most promising region, becoming the first major league to sanction China over a human rights conflict despite its large market exposure and relatively low budget compared to other major global sports such as basketball and football.
“This situation has escalated,” said Pan Wang, an associate professor of Chinese studies at the University of NSW. “It is no longer just a personal accusation of sexual harassment. It has sparked widespread public speculation and moved from an internal matter to an international conflict. “
Few outside the tennis world would have heard of Simon before he became the center of what is now a geopolitical battle that has drawn condemnation from the EU, Australian MPs, the White House and US Republicans and set in motion a diplomatic boycott of winter Beijing Olympics.
But the former college tennis player, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has made his career groundbreaking in the professional women’s game, establishing one of the world’s longest maternity covers and fighting gender discrimination. He persistently defended star Serena Williams when she was subjected to racist and sexist attacks, and Naomi Osaka when she needed time away from the media spotlight as she struggled with her own mental health.
When his successor as CEO of the Indian Wells tournament, Raymond Moore, in 2016 said that female players “ride on men’s coats” and should be “on their knees” thanked male stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he unequivocally condemned him.
“It’s extremely disappointing and alarming,” Simon said. “He makes mistakes on so many levels.”
It was at the same tournament in 2015 that Simon convinced Williams to return to the California showpiece event for the first time since she was racistly abused there in 2001.
“I know how much he cares about the opinions of the players,” Williams said. “He’s a good listener, and he has our best interests in mind.”
The same traits would be used in Madrid in 2017, when Ilie Nastase, a former US and French Open champion, abused British Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong. The 70-year-old had repeatedly asked Keothavong for her room number during a fight and came up with racial slanders against Williams’ unborn child. Nastase, the Romanian Fed Cup captain, was then invited by the Madrid organizers to take part in the tournament award ceremony.
“The only shadow cast on the day was Mr Nastase’s invitation to attend today’s awards ceremony. He had no place in court today, “Simon said, calling the decision” irresponsible and unacceptable “.
Williams would become one of many female players who could benefit from the world-leading maternity coverage that Simon implemented in 2019. The changes meant a player ranking could be frozen in place once they took time off to have a baby.
“I think it reflects a very progressive approach to our maternity rules, processes and standards, because there are not too many jobs in the world where you can be protected for a period of three years after the birth of your child to come back to work and having a protected opportunity to get back to a level where you left off, ”said Simon.
In early 2019, before COVID-19 hit tennis around the world, Simon, one of the few male leaders in the best independent women’s sports leagues, had put women’s play in the best economic and competitive position it had ever been in. But little could prepare him for the consequences of Peng’s 1500-character post about Weibo and the flow-on effects of the position the WTA has taken to protect her.
Peng claimed that Zhang, a former member of China’s seven-man standing committee in the Politburo – the highest level of government under President Xi Jinping – had sexually assaulted her after a tennis match between the couple while his wife was standing guard at the door. The post described how what was at times a consensual relationship had evolved into a cycle of abuse that left Peng inconsolable and alone.
To put her allegations in perspective, only 83 civil cases of sexual assault or harassment went through China’s courts between 2018 and 2020, when China incorporated a definition of sexual assault and harassment into its civil law book. Of them, according to a Peking University database analyzed by Diplomat, only 7 percent were prosecuted by victims, while 93 percent were prosecuted by harassers who claimed they had been falsely accused by victims online.
“Sex education has only recently been implemented in China,” Wang said. “So many people do not know what sexual harassment is, even if they are harassed. So historically, it has not been an issue until #MeToo made people aware that it was an issue.”
Simon has made his demands clear. He will not return the WTA to China unless Chinese officials can prove Peng is free and able to speak without intimidation. He wants them to “investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a complete, fair and transparent manner”.
“Unfortunately, the management in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” he said in a statement.
Wang said the CCP is unlikely to be able to meet Simon’s demands, but international pressure will help keep Peng safe because China cannot afford to risk further international fallout.
“There is not really a detailed process in China that can guide this kind of investigation,” she said. “And on top of that, who’s going to do this research? And based on what evidence? Given that this happened years ago, and evidence can hardly be gathered, who would then be willing to touch this power grid and the potential risks? , which is involved?”
For now, despite Simon’s determination to follow up on his threats, the situation remains a stalemate. You would know almost nothing about Peng’s situation and the WTA’s historical stance if you lived in China.
Perhaps a global outcry has never clashed so spectacularly with China’s censorship regime. It now has to go on the delicate line while pretending to its internal audience that nothing has happened while furiously condemning what it sees as a slander against China to the outside world.
China’s censors have worked overtime to ensure that any reference to Peng or words like “tennis” has been deleted from Chinese social media. There has been no coverage of her disappearance, video calls with the IOC or the WTA’s decision to suspend tournaments.
Chinese tennis players and fans are now facing the prospect of all their tournaments being canceled without being told why.
At Beijing National Tennis Center, the courts were empty on Friday. The arena would have hosted the $ 11 million WTA tournament at the China Open next year. But between construction sites and sparse offices, there were only cleaners and security guards to be seen, most were barely aware of the history that has shaken world tennis.
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