By Scott Barclay and Owen Lewis
It said a whole lot that the statement said nothing much.
A few paragraphs of puff-pastry wording that crumbled as you read it, flaking in your eyes as you scoured it looking for an acknowledgment of actual action that never really materialised, fading far too quickly into only a promise to merely monitor.
It seemed weak.
This was Andrea Gaudenzi’s spongy reply to Steve Simon’s trigger-pull over the question marks that continue to hang over the safety of a human being.
Simon, the head of the WTA, announced just yesterday that the lucrative Asian swing that comes with the turning of temperature and the browning of leaves every year would be suspended until free and open communication with Peng Shuai could be properly established.
The ATP chairman’s response has been just the opposite; a shanked Federer backhand the point after he struck a clean winner down the line. There was almost a pleading vibe to his message, an appeal for some sort of an understanding as to why exactly they weren’t going to stand and be counted. Mentions of the positive global influence that tennis has and the need for that to continue in spite of all else seemed coldly apathetic, especially coming as it did in the wake of such a clearly positive action of intent from across the aisle.
Indeed, perhaps it’s not an aisle but more of a yawning chasm, a canyon that separates the ATP and the WTA in a moment that called for a combined showing of strength in the face of fear. The WTA undoubtedly hoped for help but find themselves alone and magnified by their willingness to stun the sporting world with confidence unshakable.
Money over morals, is what the ATP is telling the world. Surely Andrea Gaudenzi isn’t happy with China’s total burial of Peng’s sexual assault allegations, but that doesn’t matter. If you don’t act in accordance with your morals, you may as well not have them at all.
The ATP is fine with this. They want money. The journalist Simon Häring tweeted today that Shanghai Juss Event Management Co. Ltd., a 10% shareholder of the ATP, is affiliated with the Chinese state. Pissing off China means pissing off a shareholder and losing money. And this, evidently, is enough for the ATP to surrender their morals, leaving Peng Shuai to the CCP and saying “I hope you’re safe” rather than condemn the CCP’s actions.
The Chinese Communist Party has historically been unwilling to budge in clashes with sports organizations. In the case of Daryl Morey and the NBA in 2019, the CCP reacted so fiercely to a single Morey tweet about standing with Hong Kong protesters that the NBA made Morey fear for his job as it desperately tried to reclaim its lost revenue from Chinese advertising and streaming.
Due to the rigidity of the CCP, support is needed alongside the WTA’s heroic stand. Tennis is a big product, a conglomerate of organizations on several different tours. One facet on its own doing the right thing is encouraging, but is hardly enough to make the CCP blink an eye. It’s the first chip to fall out of a brick wall, the first snowflake to melt on a thick scarf. A showing of unity when dealing with an issue of this genuinely life-altering magnitude would have underlined how serious the governing bodies of the sport we love are taking this.
So, how is it that the ATP is unwilling to stand behind its female counterpart, instead trying to hide behind brittle words that many were already saying two weeks ago? It is cowardly. Picture a team of people trying to bail water out of a flooding basement. The WTA works diligently, forming a smart plan of action and sticking to it, handing buckets smoothly up the stairs. The ATP fills a leaky thimble with water and runs out of the house.
Comically enough, the stances of the tours can be summed up well by the bio of their Twitter accounts. #ThisIsTennis, reads the bio of the ATP Tour Twitter account. We aren’t just men playing tennis, we are tennis. It’s arrogance without follow-through. In contrast, the WTA account’s bio reads “Championing women to compete fiercely and live fully. We do it for the game”. And the WTA have lived up to those words.
The ATP, meanwhile, now has a pattern of cowardice in tennis politics. Credible domestic abuse allegations against Alexander Zverev in late 2020 were met with complete silence. Even today, months after Olya Sharypova released a second set of allegations that were even more harrowing, the ATP continues to market Zverev as if nothing happened. There is supposedly an investigation into the allegations, of which we have heard nothing since it was announced months ago. They have made clear that they value profit over principle. Any show of quality on the ATP’s behalf is strictly limited to the good shots their players produce on court.
This could change easily. It wouldn’t have been hard to put out a stronger statement in support of Peng Shuai. But the spinelessness of the ATP has sent expectations hurtling through the ground and into Hell.
As such, don’t count on the ATP redeeming itself anytime soon.