After a Chinese tennis star accused a former Chinese official of assault and temporarily vanished from view, the Women’s Tennis Association halted tournaments there. Now the men’s group is under fire.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A number of sports organizations are voicing their support for the Women’s Tennis Association. This week, the WTA took the unprecedented step of suspending its tournaments in China and Hong Kong because of concern about the safety of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. She temporarily disappeared from view after publicly accusing a former high-ranking government official of sexual assault. But the WTA remains the only organization to pull its business from China in protest, and that’s led to criticism of the other major tennis body, the ATP Tour, representing men’s tennis. NPR’s sports correspondent Tom Goldman is here.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What has the men’s tour said about the WTA’s action?
GOLDMAN: It’s been very supportive from top-ranked men’s player Novak Djokovic to tour chairman Andrea Gaudenzi, words of support, but notably no action like the WTA’s, as you said. In a statement yesterday, Gaudenzi said this – we know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact. We have heard a couple of prominent tennis voices criticizing this stance, from Hall of Fame player Martina Navratilova to former top U.S. player Andy Roddick. He said of Gaudenzi’s statement – how to say a lot of words and say nothing.
SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of saying things, the International Olympic Committee announced yesterday that on Wednesday it had another video call with Peng Shuai. And they said Peng reconfirmed she was safe and well. How reliable is that?
GOLDMAN: Many are finding it hard to say that’s reliable. Critics say the IOC is merely aiding China and not really getting to the bottom of things, namely, what really is happening with Peng, who is a three-time Olympian and thus a member of the Olympic family, as the IOC likes to say? Now, certainly, the IOC is aware of all that’s swirling around. It’s evident in the language used to describe this latest video call. You know, whereas the first call a couple of weeks ago is said to be friendly, where Peng gave assurances she was OK and that ended with IOC President Thomas Bach and Peng planning a get-together for when Bach gets to Beijing for the upcoming Winter Olympics, the IOC said after the second call that it shares the concern about the well-being and safety of Peng, although it still didn’t directly mention her sexual abuse allegation. It spoke euphemistically, using the phrase, the difficult situation she’s in.
SHAPIRO: What can and should the IOC do in this situation? The committee says it’s not a political organization.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. It continues to say that. In reality, the IOC has waded into politics in the past. I spoke today with long-time Olympic historian David Wallechinsky about that, and here’s what he said.
DAVID WALLECHINSKY: The International Olympic Committee has a history of, you know, banning South Africa during apartheid and also refusing to allow Yugoslavian teams to compete in the Barcelona games. These were political decisions.
GOLDMAN: But, Ari, Wallechinsky also notes those situations didn’t involve some sort of action against the host country for those Olympics. South Africa wasn’t a host country, nor was then Yugoslavia. In this case, China is in two months. It’s an enormously powerful and wealthy host country, and so you’re not likely to see the IOC take any significant action in the Peng case or, say, with the documented human rights violations in China. The message most likely will continue to be we don’t do politics unless there’s an enormous groundswell of WTA-like actions by other businesses, by sponsors, which, so far, there isn’t.
SHAPIRO: NPR’s Tom Goldman, thank you.
GOLDMAN: You’re welcome.
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