For the Women’s Tennis Association, Peng Shuai’s safety is ‘bigger than business’

November 22, 2021, 2:11 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Time’s Up is starting over, Lael Brainard is Biden’s pick for Fed vice chair, and international tennis wants proof of the welfare of player Peng Shuai. Have a productive Monday.

– Tennis bands together. Since early this month, tennis officials and stars have been seeking to ascertain the welfare of Peng Shuai. After the 35-year-old Chinese tennis player accused a high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault and a coercive relationship, her online accounts went silent. (Zhang Gaoli, 75, is a former vice premier of China. He hasn’t commented on the allegations directly.) No one had seen or heard from Peng for more than a week before video snippets said to show her at tennis events and a Beijing restaurant were posted online.

But yesterday, the International Olympic Committee said its leaders spoke to Peng, a three-time Olympian, via video chat for 30 minutes. “She is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time,” the organization said in a statement.

Is that enough? The Women’s Tennis Association still hasn’t been able to independently reach Peng—and it’s amping up the pressure. The player’s video chat doesn’t “alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” a WTA spokesperson said. The organization has made clear that it won’t hold tournaments in China without first confirming Peng’s well-being and freedom, a decision that could cost the association hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to a 10-year tournament deal in Shenzhen. WTA Tour CEO Steve Simon has been especially vocal in his criticism of China and advocacy for players’ safety.

“We have to start, as a world, making decisions that are based upon right and wrong, period,” Simon said in a CNN interview. “We can’t compromise that, and we’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it. Because this is bigger than the business.” The WTA is demanding Peng’s safety, a full investigation of her accusation, and her ability to speak freely about her experience.

That stance contrasts with the IOC, which is preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in just a few months. Critics already objected to the IOC’s choice of host country because of China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, and censorship of business and cultural figures. Peng’s treatment and safety is now another issue prompting criticism of Beijing 2022.

The case is quickly becoming the highest-profile #MeToo allegation in China; the NYT reports that it marks the “first time” such an allegation has “touched the pinnacles of Communist Party power.”

In a solitary sport like tennis, Peng doesn’t have teammates to rally around her. But her tennis peers around the world remain concerned about her, like Serena Williams, who said last week (before the IOC video call) that she was “devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.”

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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