If the original statement from WTA Tour came relatively late in the game and wasn’t nearly as strong as the praise many bestowed upon it, chairman and CEO Steve Simon has since raised the temperature on China considerably, regarding the Peng Shuai situation.
New York Times journalist Chrisopher Clarey posted a copy of a letter the WTA sent to the U.S. Ambassador for China, asking for his help in urging the Chinese government authorities to provide more compelling proof of Peng’s safety and freedom.
Copy of letter sent by WTA chief Steve Simon to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States about Peng Shuai— Christopher Clarey 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 (@christophclarey) November 20, 2021
“Simply put, the WTA is at a crossroads in China. I hope I can rely on you to convey these messages to the leadership in China so this issue can be resolved” pic.twitter.com/XDdTf0LVzf
As in a previous statement to the Times, and in an interview with CNN, Simon reiterated the possibility that the WTA is prepared to pull its business – some 10 tournaments, including the key revenue-generating one at year-end – out of China.
There remains no deadline after which that big hammer might fall, which means that Simon still has a piece on his chess board left to play.
Email, photos, videos as evidence
While official comments from Chinese authorities claim no awareness or knowledge of the Peng Shuai situation, its actions disprove that.
First came an amateurish-looking email, including a cursor in the middle of the text that immediately became a subject of derision.
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
Then came the bizarre photos of Peng at home (the notion that a 35-year-old woman would sleep in a room full of stuffed animals is … something. But not relevant).
Peng Shuai’s WeChat moments just posted three latest photos and said “Happy weekend”.— Shen Shiwei沈诗伟 (@shen_shiwei) November 19, 2021
Her friend shared the three photos and the screenshot of Peng’s WeChat moments. pic.twitter.com/tut8CEH6gu
Then, a video of Peng and numerous people just out and about, having a lovely, free, “nothing to see here” dinner in which the date reportedly just happened to be mentioned more than once.
Peng Shuai’s friend, who sent Peng’s latest pictures, shared a video of friends dinner. pic.twitter.com/UVFltgOxbH— Shen Shiwei沈诗伟 (@shen_shiwei) November 20, 2021
(At this point, we’re putting “Peng Shuai’s friend” in the same bucket as “Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend in Trinidad).
Here’s a pretty interesting Twitter thread with context about the restaurant in which this video shoot took place.
And the content from sponsored Chinese state media kept coming.
Next was a video of Peng at a junior tennis event in Beijing.
Peng Shuai showed up at the opening ceremony of a teenager tennis match final in Beijing on Sunday morning. Global Times photo reporter Cui Meng captured her at scene. pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 21, 2021
It goes without saying that regardless of whether these videos and photos are what they claim to be, few outside China will believe them.
Certainly, Simon and the WTA are very skeptical.
They want a one-on-one conversation with Peng, to reassure themselves that all is as fine as the Chinese government and its media say it is.
The IOC steps in to protect its franchise
The most disheartening “effort” in a cause that has now been taken up by most media around the planet (outside of China) has come from the International Olympic Committee.
This, of course, comes as no surprise to most.
What the IOC cares about is … the IOC and its multi-billion-dollar oligarchy.
You can get that they are petrified this turns into an international incident that threatens that. If it hasn’t already.
Beijing Winter Games looming
Beijing and the IOC are preparing to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in just a few months.
And in the current climate, when many of the legitimate bidders on the bloated Games are nations with dodgy human-rights track records (but a lot of disposable cash), the girders inside the luxurious Lausanne mansions are probably quaking a bit.
The initial response from the IOC was as weak as you’d expect.
They’re reassured she’s safe. Their federation (The International Tennis Federation) is monitoring the situation closely for them (note: the ITF never even issued a statement until the IOC spoke. And even at that, it was limited and banal). They think quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy is more effective in these cases. …”
Yada, yada, yada …
Then, the IOC’s Athletes Commission issued a statement only on Saturday. Not that anyone thinks that commision will ever take a stand that doesn’t dovetail with the IOC. But those are plum assignments.
“Together with the worldwide athlete community, the IOC AC is very concered about the situation of three-time Olympian Peng Shuai. We support the quiet diplomacy approach that is being taken and hope it will lead to the release of information about the whereabouts of Peng Shuai and confirmation of her safety and well-being. We also hope that a way can be found for direct engagement between her and her athlete colleagues.”
It took place in that same stuffed-animal filled room featured in those earlier photos.
Also reportedly present were Emma Laaksonen, the chair of that Athletes Commision and Li Lingwei, a Chinese member of the IOC.
It would almost be satire, as creepy as it is. But it’s all too real.
Li, a 57-year-old former badminton player, has spent nearly a decade as an IOC member, and nearly five years as vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee.
She also, conveniently and optics-wise, is a woman touted as “a strong advocate of women’s rights.” And, clearly, deeply embedded in both the IOC trough and the CCP bureaucracy.
Today, IOC President Thomas Bach, the Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho @ELaaksonen3, and IOC Member in China Li Lingwei held a video call with three-time Olympian Peng Shuai from China. cc/ @Athlete365 https://t.co/8at0ZMrozS— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) November 21, 2021
No video, no Simon
It would have been, you would think, a simple matter to invite Simon to take part in this call.
It also would have been a simple matter to post actual video of the conversation which – as we assume Bach’s Chinese is not up to it – would have taken place mostly in English.
Lord knows the IOC’s PR arm posts plenty of clips of Bach’s various speeches and appearances and innocuous ribbon cuttings and self-congratulatory moments.
But in this most crucial circumstance, neither of those things happened.
By design, clearly.
What’s unclear is who they think they’re reassuring.
The WTA made the next move, issuing a statement Monday saying that while it was good to see her, the video in no way assuaged its concerns about her ability to speak freely, and the organization’s insistence that the allegations of sexual assault it says she made in her social media post be investigated.
We’ll see what the next move is.