Men’s Tennis Offers a Weak Response to Peng Shuai’s Plight

Photo: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

The Women’s Tennis Association has won many plaudits in recent days for its bold stance on Peng Shuai, the prominent Chinese tennis player who disappeared from public sight last month after accusing a powerful retired politician of sexual assault. The organization’s head, Steve Simon, announced on Wednesday that the WTA would cancel all upcoming tournaments in China until he is satisfied that Peng is safe and acting of her own accord, a decision that could cost the WTA hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. And Simon made clear that the China-placating International Olympic Committee’s recent opaque phone calls with Peng, after which officials claimed that she was doing just fine and insisted on their approach of “quiet diplomacy,” did not satisfy that requirement.

On Thursday, the ATP, the organization that controls the men’s tennis tour excluding the four Grand Slam tournaments, put out its own updated statement on the matter after calling for an investigation in November, as did the International Tennis Federation, which runs the Grand Slams. Neither response was inspiring.

“The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport,” the ATP statement reads in part. “The response to those concerns has so far fallen short. We again urge for a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation.”

The ATP, like the WTA, regularly holds tournaments in China, but there is no talk of repercussions or consequences for Beijing in this passive-voiced missive nor in the ITF’s statement, which emphasizes that “our primary concern remains Peng Shuai’s well-being.” There is no sense that such demands will be forthcoming, even if the status quo remains. And as tennis writer Ben Rothenberg observes, neither statement even mentions China.

Multiple players, including 26th-ranked American Reilly Opelka, tweeted their displeasure with the statement:

In the wake of Peng Shuai’s disappearance and strange reappearance, an open question has been how sports leagues do or don’t recalibrate their stances toward China, a hugely lucrative market whose authoritarian government has also created many headaches for Western sports in recent years. While the IOC trips over itself to avoid offending the country, which hosts the Winter Olympics in February, other professional sports have the opportunity to get — or at least talk — tough. So far, the WTA stands alone on that front.

Men’s Tennis Offers a Weak Response to Peng Shuai’s Plight