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November 28, 2022

Where Is Peng Shuai?

After a year, the Women’s Tennis Association and China are back in talks. The best that can be hoped for is that the WTA doesn’t cave.

Over a year ago, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused retired Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s of sexually assaulting her. There is no such thing as #MeToo in China, making this kind of accusation the act of a desperate woman. Peng probably knew that this wouldn’t end well for her. Not only was her post containing the accusation quickly taken down, but she was missing from the public eye for months until the CCP faced enough global pressure that she was allowed to resurface.

Her sad and probably coerced statements to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and L'Equipe magazine were done over video with armed guards in the background. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) remained unconvinced and put a stop to tournament play in China in protest. This was an unexpectedly honorable move, especially considering the WTA was under contract for 10 years to play the finals in Shenzhen. Steve Simon, chairman and CEO of the WTA, stated at the time that until he is assured of Peng’s safety and well being, the tournament hiatus will continue.

Peng also was seen at the Beijing Olympics during skier Eileen Gu’s gold medal run. Gu, who was American-born and raised but who competed for China, was the face of the Beijing Olympics.

Peng announced her retirement from professional tennis shortly after the Olympics came to an end and hasn’t been seen or heard from since February 2022.

Disappointingly, talks are resuming between the WTA and China. Many are calling it a “moral failure” to even resume talks. One can only assume that the driving motivation for the revisiting of negotiations is that the decision to keep the WTA out of China has hit the organization hard in the pocketbook. One frame of reference for just how distinctly this decision has cost the WTA is seen in the drastic drop in prize money. In 2019, the WTA had $179 million in the winners’ pot; in 2022, it was only $157 million.

Is garnering more prize money and profit more important than standing for the rights and dignity of an alleged victim? That’s most certainly what China is counting on. The Chinese government is banking on the worlds’s short attention span and the avarice of international organizations like the WTA to quietly let Peng Shuai disappear. She is being victimized twice over as a result.

The WTA may have resumed talks with China, but it’s not guaranteeing a return. Simon is vocal about his remaining concerns for Peng. “We’ve been consistent with that,” Simon declared. “We want to have both dialogue with Peng, but we also want a transparent investigation as to the allegations that were set forth so that we can get to an appropriate resolution. As I’ve said all along as well, if you can get to a resolution that, you ask somebody to do something and they do it, you then have an obligation to return.”

The WTA has been a courageous example of an international industry willing to stand up to China. If it caves now, it will be deeply disappointing.

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