Chinese pro tennis player Peng Shuai was stripped of her final Olympic singles berth due to WTA disqualification from the Rio Olympics for deliberately switching singles players against Russian Julia Goerges.
Peng forfeited her last two matches but wasn’t banned — her matches were lumped in with her other weaker matches.
“If you look at what’s happened with Peng Shuai, I would say she is a human rights champion,” former U.S. State Department official Dennis Rodman said during an interview with ESPN. “If you see human rights champion, she broke the WTA rule, but she still stands on the principles of the U.S. Olympic Committee.”
With Ping Chi then years away from being a contender in the first place, when asked if she thought the WTA offered a stronger stance than it has against China for years she answered: “I think so.”
Later, Rodman slammed the competition.
“She’s still a human being. She’s still women, she’s not a man,” Rodman said. “Women have the same rights as men.”
WTA president Steve Simon agreed on the historic importance of her case and pledged to do more to protect the ethics of the sport.
“What happened in Rio, I’m going to commit to you we’re going to change,” Simon said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “We’re going to change for the better, because there will not be another example like that.”
In an era when #MeToo and #TimesUp have gained momentum, dating back to the recent barrage of sexual harassment scandals rocking the entertainment industry, others called for Peng to be penalized.
“If the WTA made a rule like that, they should actually be fined,” wrote Jennifer Agiesta, assistant director of the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Program, in an opinion piece published on CNN.com. “They should be penalized for their actions.”
Former Russian tennis player Dinara Safina tweeted her disapproval of the WTA for sitting idly by as Peng removed herself from the draw. “Too bad we’ll never know who was next to blame,” she wrote on Twitter.
But as NPR’s lead tennis writer Nina Hachigian detailed in a column titled “The WTA Really Needs to Find Its Human Rights Clout,” that’s unlikely:
The WTA regularly spends large sums of money to paint its logo on billboards and TV networks, relying on the support of about 350 brands (sportswear companies like Nike, satellite radio broadcasters like SiriusXM, venture capital firms, tour officials, tournament and tour officials, sponsors and team players) who play or sponsor nearly all of the players. The companies pay great marketing fees, and many also pay cash. The WTA spends only about $3 million per year on the sport’s human rights work. The Olympic committee spends far more on its program; it says it spends more than $100 million a year on social and sexual justice. And even the three or four feminist advocacy groups that regularly send reports about sexism on the court are few and far between.
Agiesta said other sports should probably look to what the WTA has done in the last decade as a model for their own efforts.
“The WTA is acting like there are good outcomes from violating rules,” she said. “That’s even more important in sports.”