The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) decided that enough was enough and it could not continue its business relationship with China, but the right decision could come with a significant financial cost. WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon released a statement that the organization will be suspending all tournaments in China, “including Hong Kong.”
The whereabouts of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai have been dubious at best since her social media post was deleted that accused former Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexually assaulting her three years ago.
The most damning part of Simon’s statement is in the third paragraph. It reads: “Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.”
Doubts that she is “free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation,” that’s not from a Twitter account, a columnist, or even a player, that comes from the head of a worldwide sports organization that feels they are being lied to by a government about the health and safety of one its professionals.
This was unequivocally the right thing to do, but sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t come with a reward. Sometimes it comes with an invoice.
It should feel callous to discuss money when a person’s well being is in question, but there is a reason the Association of Tennis Professionals (men’s tour), the NBA, the IOC, J.P Morgan, and others have not yet made the decision that human rights are worth more than zeros and commas. The WTA has a 10-year contract to host nine tennis tournaments in China every year. By pulling out, it could lose hundreds of millions of dollars, per the New York Times.
The hit that could come from leaving was already seen on a smaller scale during the 2020 year-end tournament in Shenzen. It was moved to Mexico because China did not want to host the tournament due to COVID concerns. That lowered the prize money from $14 million to $5 million.
That’s why no matter how necessary this decision was to make, the WTA deserves acknowledgment for making it. China’s hold on corporate America is so strong that the country is actively making it harder for the United States to do business there and companies are still sticking around. When the American Chamber of Commerce surveyed 338 American companies in China, 77.9 percent were optimistic about their five-year business outlook, 72 percent had no plans to move any production out of China, and of the 28 percent that do want to move at least some production only. Two companies plan on moving all of their production out of the country in the next three years.
This is how enthusiastic private enterprise is to do business in China, despite the well-publicized human rights violations that regularly take place. Per Amnesty International, China’s justice system is “plagued by unfair trials and torture,” and they are placing Muslims and other ethnic minorities in internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
It wasn’t an easy decision for the WTA to make this humane and decent decision, but by making it, this organization has drawn a clear line in the sand. It has done what many businesses that have much greater resources wouldn’t do in their wildest moment of benevolence.
The WTA has decided not to stand for a country that is highly suspected of silencing and abducting one of its players. It seems absurd that anyone would question making that decision but talk is cheap. Righteousness sometimes comes with the heftiest of price tags, and this situation is another reminder that many find it much too expensive.