The WTA’s “foot in the door” policy has never solved any problems with China, and it wouldn’t be the first time
Ricardo Fort, special for sports machines Published on 12/13/2021 at 7:02 am – Updated at 7:04 am
The Chinese tennis player who was the fourteenth singles player (in 2011) and first in the WTA rankings (in 2014) in doubles (“Women’s Tennis Federation”, the organization that manages the main events of women’s tennis in the world), has disappeared .
Shuai Peng just disappeared, following a controversial post on China’s social media that accused one of the most senior members of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault. Her post was deleted, and many feared the worst could happen to her.
The fear was justified. After all, the People’s Republic of China is one of the worst-ranked countries on the “Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index,” an annual survey that measures the state of human freedom in the world based on a variety of criteria, including individual, civil and civil rights. , and economic freedom.. In 2018, in the most recent study, 162 countries made the ranking. China was ranked 129th.
The tennis world and, later, the sport in general, were demanding a response from the Chinese government. Athletes, celebrities and tweeters on duty wanted to know where Shuai Peng was. He asked for proof of his well being and independence.
At the time, the two sports organizations chose opposite paths to find answers. On the one hand, the diplomacy of the International Olympic Committee (IOC); On the other hand, the fairness of the WTA, the body that oversees women’s tennis.
The IOC is an organization that understands sports and diplomacy like few others. Based in Switzerland and operated by people from a hundred countries, they declare themselves non-political, but daily with governments, non-governmental organizations, corporate sponsors and television networks, balancing the interests of all for the good of sport. behave.
The IOC is considerate. He works behind the scenes in private conversations to address the persistent challenges faced by the countries that host the Olympic Games. Its senior officials, such as President Thomas Bach, have direct access to presidents, prime ministers and anyone else who can actually provide answers to the IOC’s needs. They call this policy “silent diplomacy”.
In Shuai Peng’s case, that’s exactly what he did. While some were shouting on Twitter, the IOC worked with its contacts in China and managed to organize a private video call with the former tennis player, who was duly registered by the institution’s official photographers. Everything was done in a very respectful way for Chinese autonomy and authority. Finally, he arranged for a live meeting during Bach’s upcoming visit to China.
The WTA, a global organization based in the United States and administered primarily by Americans, has adopted a policy unlike the IOC. It quickly became public with China’s demands and harsh threats. Unless they have irrefutable proof that Shuai Peng is fine, they will immediately suspend all their events in China.,
When the former tennis player spoke on social media, the WTA could not believe the veracity of his words. When she posted the photos in her bedroom, the WTA couldn’t believe the photos were current. When the IOC published photos of Thomas Bach’s video call with him, the WTA suspected Peng was being watched and controlled by the government. All this was duly published and debated on social media and international media.
Finally, after much confrontation and public accusations against the Chinese government, WTA keeps its promise and confirms cancellation of all events in Chinese territory,
Many celebrated the WTA’s decision. “At last a sports organization courageous enough to face China.” “Enough to be intimidated by Chinese economic power.” “FIFA, IOC, UEFA, Formula 1 and everyone in sport should learn from the WTA.” Steve Simon, the organization’s president, has become a celebrity and an example to other administrators of the game.
If the WTA wants to promote its values in a major international campaign, it has done a great job. But if his goal was to help Shuai Peng and the Chinese tennis players, his actions were in vain. You don’t need to be an expert in Chinese politics to know that publicly accusing them is the worst course of action.
Contrary to logic, holding events in China may be a more effective way to effect change. No engagement, no discussion, no dialogue, nothing will change. Sport can be an excellent platform, but for this to happen, sports organizations like the WTA need to work closely with many governments around the world, including China, to bring about much-needed change in sport.
The WTA’s “foot in the door” policy has never solved any problems with China. And it won’t be the first time.
Ricardo Forte is CEO of Sport by Forte Consultancy and writes monthly at Maquina do Esportes