The WTA just made it a lot harder for other organizations to unembarrassedly coddle or cooperate in China’s governmental brutalism, slavery, detentions and repressions such as the one Peng Shuai apparently experienced after accusing one of President Xi Jinping’s allies of sexual assault.
It will cost the WTA a billion dollars or more to suspend tournaments in China until former doubles champion Peng “is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation,” as chief executive Steve Simon said in a statement. If it seems unlikely that Simon should prove a tougher leader than various heads of state or the complicit International Olympic Committee, just remember what Ashe once said: “True heroism is remarkably sober and very undramatic.”
What is an apartheid if it’s not a handful of ruling elites who maintain power by suppression and discrimination? As Therese Shaheen, former chair of the State Department’s American Institute in Taiwan, wrote in the National Review not long ago, China’s leaders operate a “ruthless permanent caste system” and have imposed “decades of social and economic domination by an entrenched minority … on a scale and with a degree of deliberation unseen since the apartheid-era in South Africa.”
Once, the IOC was an important agent against apartheid. But the modern IOC executives are apparently so soaked in Chinese slave-state money that they are terrified of the word “boycott” as the despicable staging of the Winter Games in Beijing approaches. They will no doubt try to undermine the WTA’s stand.
Last week, out of the blue, here came the Barons Von Ripperoff, IOC President Thomas Bach and his henchie Dick Pound, to insist that Peng “is fine.” Pound told CNN’s Erin Burnett with a straight face, “She just asked that her privacy be respected for the time being.” By the way, note the IOC’s sudden energy to involve itself in the Peng controversy, when in other matters — such as Uyghur torture — it steadfastly insists the IOC is apolitical and must not take a position.
The IOC has been far too effective in recent years at persuading business executives and world leaders that single acts of good are useless and that moral positions are peacebreakers. This is propagandist toadying for tyrants.
Does it matter that a single organization, the women’s tennis tour, takes a stance against the monolithic Chinese government? It matters. It matters in the way that any small act of righteous dissent matters because each has a way of gathering momentum. It matters because, as Vaclav Havel wrote as a dissident under the boot of European communism in the 1960s, “Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.” It matters because, as Havel also said:
“I feel that the dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to respect the elementary rules of human coexistence.”
The WTA’s Simon expressed something similar to this sentiment in his own appearance on CNN not long ago. “There are too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this and we let business, politics, money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong. . . . We have to start as a world making decisions that are based on right and wrong, period.”
Here is what Ashe would say to the question of whether a small stand matters. He would say that tennis, cricket, rugby, soccer and Olympic boycotts of South Africa played monumental roles in helping to finally topple apartheid. He would say that the IOC has utterly lost its compass. He would point out, as he once wrote in a Washington Post editorial, that sports are terribly important to regimes for their “self-image of independence, resilience and toughness.”
It was Ashe who persuaded John McEnroe to give up a million-dollar offer to play a tennis match in Bophuthatswana, making him the first White superstar to reject South Africa’s sportswashing bribes. In 1983, Ashe joined with Harry Belafonte to co-found Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid, which vastly broadened the boycotts. In 1989, the leaders of the men’s tennis tour canceled two events in South Africa “for moral and practical reasons” and added the stinging rebuke that “South Africa is not a respected member of the world sports community.”
Ashe would say that China should not be a respected member of the world sports community. He would say that when you take away the international approval and verification of a country’s athletic self-image, when you wear away at its prestige with international contempt and ostracism, you expose its internal weaknesses and its discontents. Ashe would say that the WTA has done something that may seem small at the moment, but history teaches that it will grow — and grow — in importance.