Of Steve Simon, president of the Women’s Tennis Association, you can say he is a sports entrepreneur who puts his money where his mouth is. He has been expressing urgent concern for the safety and well-being of Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who vanished early in November after posting an accusation of sexual aggression against a Red Chinese big-shot. Now he has removed the Chinese leg of the women’s tour to show he means business.
Miss Peng’s post disappeared inside 20 minutes. The ex-No. 1 in doubles who also was well within the top 20 in singles at the top of her career in the mid ’teens, has been heard from once or twice, but Mr. Simon doubts the credibility of her emails and reported phone calls to Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president.
It is unlikely that Miss Peng, with loud support from world-famous athletes and others, has been shipped off to a concentration camp to be worked and starved to death. Her fame protects her from the ordinary communist way of dealing with nuisances. But you never know until you know, and her case signals the regime’s insistence on wielding unchallenged power.
Mr. Simon’s decision to take the WTA out of the Red China segment of the women’s tour represents a serious economic sacrifice: early estimates by sports economists suggest it is worth about $100 million to his organization when the epidemic abates sufficiently to allow the resumption of full attendance tournaments.
This is quite amazing considering that China has only in the past few years emerged as a tennis power. But the Chinese tennis phenomenon is itself a spectacular demonstration of the Red Chinese development model: police state plus an offer the world’s capitalists cannot refuse. Greed never fails. Disrupt other countries’ economies, get rich and richer, keep your own people quiet and obedient — or imprison them — and they will not complain. They will even sell you the rope.
Thus, for the Red Chinese, Mr. Simon’s China initiative must come as a jolt. The Turkey-born Enes Kanter Freedom, the Celtics player who just recently added Freedom to his name to underscore and affirm his choice to become an American citizen, has been waging a one-man protest movement against the silence of the NBA regarding Chinese human rights abuses. He also has called out big stars, including LeBron James and Michael Jordan, and their sponsors, especially Nike, which he accuses of making use of Chinese slave labor. He has called for a boycott of the forthcoming Winter Olympic Games, or for moving them out of Beijing, which would be unrealistic at this late date.
Mr. Bach, the IOC president, says he has been in touch with Miss Peng, and is protecting her safety “behind the scenes.”
Comrade Zhang, the vice-premier whom Miss Peng names as her aggressor and multi-year abuser, was a member of the committee that brought Beijing’s application to the IOC. The Red Chinese surely would be displeased by the cancellation or a massive boycott of the Winter Games; but this does not mean they will make any concessions to please Western governments or athletes with human rights agendas.
Enes Freedom’s position is undeniably principled and reflects his courage in defending his beliefs. He cannot return to his native Turkey, where his family is harassed due to his criticisms of the dictatorial Erdogan regime. He believes you must put your money where your mouth is — he sponsors youth basketball camps lavishly out of his own pocket — and not put money over morals, which is how he views the NBA’s craven attitude toward Red China.
Actually, the position he defends would have sports organizations actively protesting against the persecution of minorities, notably Uighurs, who are a Muslim population in the Chinese far-west, and Christians, less ethnically and geographically concentrated. The Red regime also has crushed liberal democracy in Hong Kong and noisily threatens to conquer Taiwan (Free China) by force and teach Australia and the Philippines who is master of the Pacific Rim.
Mr. Simon’s position is not necessarily less radical or a more prudent one, but may be more realistic. Olympic boycotts and broad moral condemnations do not have a high win-percentage record. There was a movement to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics to deny Hitler’s Nazi regime the glory it expected to derive from them, but it fizzled when a cynical and bigoted American Olympic Committee denounced the boycott as traitorous. As it happens, the amazing athletic feats of Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, and other American athletes showed up the Nazis better than any boycott would have.
More recently, a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet Union’s assault on Afghanistan had zero strategic consequences, although it did put the South Asian country on the mental maps of U.S. strategists, with consequences that cost us.
The Red Chinese threat — to its own people, individually and as groups, as the respective Peng and Uighur cases show — to its neighbors, and to the U.S. is the doing of many misconceived policies of many governments the world over, including our own. We allowed our policy makers to delude themselves (and us, consumers) that making China rich would tame its political style. Until, or more likely if ever, there is a coherent Free World strategy to contain Red China, the realistically successful strategy may be to take one case at a time and make it as costly as possible to Empire. Apparently modest, this could, incrementally, damage their prestige and influence around the world. It cannot work, of course, without a defense program like the one Ronald Reagan used to exhaust and demoralize the Soviets.