The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The WTA cares enough about Peng Shuai to stand up to China. Does anyone else?

The disappearance of Peng Shuai, shown at the French Open in 2018, has alarmed the tennis community. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)
correction

A previous version of this column incorrectly said the WTA was founded in 1970. It was founded in 1973.

It is a fact, a contemptible, milk-weak, sordid fact, that the members of the women’s tennis tour have more clean-principled steel when it comes to confronting China than executives at the International Olympic Committee, the NBA, Procter & Gamble and the Oval Office, to name just a few shoulder-curlers, shrinkers and cringers who can’t seem to find their duty.

It has been two weeks since Peng Shuai, the 35-year-old tennis player who was once No. 1 in the world in doubles, posted a claim on the social media site Weibo that she was sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier under Xi Jinping and top Communist Party leader. “Even if I’m destroying myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a moth flying into a flame, I will still speak out the truth about us,” the now-deleted post said. She has not been seen since. Search engines in China are scrubbed of her. Apparently even text mentions of her are flagged by state surveillance. Her social media account has disappeared. Meanwhile, Olympic sponsors and U.S. companies continue to funnel traitorous billions into abetting the coverups of the China president’s lurid regime.

The only organization that has shown any vertebrae on the matter of Peng’s disappearance is the Women’s Tennis Association. Coca-Cola? They’re apparently fine with the mysterious disappearance of a woman.

China facing WTA pullout over Peng disappearance

There is no trace of Peng but a sketchy purported message that is all the more sinister because it was released on Twitter by state-owned mouthpiece China Global Television, saying the allegation of rape “is not true. I’m not missing, nor I am unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.” Yet no one can reach her. As ESPN commentator and former champion Rennae Stubbs remarked on her own Twitter account, “Thanks for the email, Peng Shuai. Now can u send us all a voice mail, picture, and a video with a time stamp?”

Steve Simon, the CEO and chair of the WTA, outright scoffed at the message. “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” he said in a statement. Simon has done what literally no one else seems willing to do: He threatened to cancel the WTA tournaments in China — 10 in all, including the hugely important Tour Finals in 2022 — and to suspend any business there until her safety is verified.

It’s not surprising that the WTA would take a stand. The tour always has been as much about social justice as enterprise. Founded by Billie Jean King in the heart of the civil rights movement, following a 1973 meeting with more than 60 players, the WTA is rightly using its power as the No. 1 platform in the world for female athletes on Peng’s behalf. King believed that to be listened to, a woman had to be No. 1.

What’s disappointing is the degree to which its exercise of muscle exposes and disgraces others.

From August: It’s unforgivable to hold the Olympics in Beijing

The IOC, historical toady of tyrants, distinguished itself with a statement that, as usual, combined fraudulence with cowardice: “We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe.” President Biden said in a meeting with Canada’s Justin Trudeau ever so gently that a “diplomatic” boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Games “is something we’re considering.”

There should be no considering, no half-measures of sending athletes and sponsor dollars but no politicians. There should be only a hard boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Games — and total commercial extrication from this regime. China’s president is on a concerted campaign to enforce a worldwide gag order over his murderous, rapacious, club-whacking policies. He very much would like to insinuate his power into your phone via surveillance, and he will continue to export his tyranny through trapping market entanglements. The WTA resembles nothing so much as that woman in “Jaws” who alone sees the Great White gliding toward the estuary pond. Everyone else engaged with Beijing seems either inattentive, afraid or compromised and immobilized to the point of tacitly condoning crimes against humanity.

Three days ago the Chinese Communist Party moved to make Xi ruler for life and published a manifesto of more than 36,000 characters that states his future intentions:

To crush Western democratic ideas, wage ideological war to dominate the Internet and take Taiwan and fold it into “full national reunification.” He also called the 1989 tank-crushing, head-cracking brutality in Tiananmen Square the right response.

Nothing is going to change China’s behavior. That illusion departed with the extinguishing of the flame in the 2008 Olympics. But Western bloc countries better change theirs. One of the things that has happened since the ’08 Games is the slow gathering of a disturbing imperviousness, and the disappearance of Peng is an all too ominous indication that this regime has a sense that it can get away with anything. Does anyone really think that, if this autocratic handshake isn’t broken, anything will get better from here?

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