Does sport still need China?


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Ultimately, the affair showed how even the most scrupulous of organizations could see their plans being undermined by Chinese politics, how any company could involuntarily become a vessel for international dispute.

“If you upset both sides, it means there is no middle ground, which I thought was important,” said Dreyer, the Beijing-based sports analyst.

Like other observers, Dreyer suggested that the WTA’s stance was potentially groundbreaking. But he also noted that it may be easier for the WTA to defy China than it is for the NBA, for example, for two reasons.

First, because the pandemic had already forced the WTA to cancel its events in China for the near future, the tour didn’t necessarily lose large sums of money immediately. (Of course, a permanent break in ties with China would require the WTA tour to replace tens of millions of dollars in revenue and prize money.) Second, because China essentially removed all mention of Peng and the resulting international outcry from its news and social media has, the WTA brand may not take a lot there. Many in China just don’t know about Peng or the WTA’s reaction.

“They burned jerseys in the NBA,” said Dreyer. “You don’t have that reaction to tennis.”

Certainly, major sports leagues that have a deep, long-standing interest in China will not be leaving the market anytime soon, barring a few extreme events. And some organizations are still going all in.

The IOC, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, has masked all calls from critics for the organization to speak out on China’s human rights violations, including the treatment of religious minorities in the country’s western regions.

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