AAmid global concerns about tennis player Peng Shuai, Tennis Australia posted a job advertisement highlighting the importance of China to a sport that is currently at odds with China. The successful applicant for the role of “Social Content Producer, China Channels” will “help tell the story of the Australian Open to our growing audience in China” until January.
The new hire will be busy, with Tennis Australia confirming Thursday that its calendar for January will include 17 tournaments in three states ahead of the Melbourne major. With the Australian Open considered the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific region, social media engagement has played a role in building the tournament’s profile in China.
The event is a partnership with the Chinese premium liquor brand Guojiao 1573 and Ganten, which will provide bottled water for tournaments during the summer. Both are great sponsors. In particular, Guojiao’s 1573 partnership is viewed in a similar range of several million dollars per year to that of the Australian Open’s main sponsor, Kia.
Hosting the Australian Open in 2021 under conditions to protect Victorians from Covid-19 turned out to be incredibly expensive. This put a significant economic burden on Tennis Australia, making partnerships with companies such as their Chinese sponsors critical from an economic point of view.
The challenge for the various bodies of the tennis family, and for the sporting world at large, is to balance their financial partnerships with human rights concerns. What happens if another tennis organization like the WTA Tour, which is currently working on a test scenario regarding peng in China, is in danger or under duress?
While the current situation concerns China, tennis and other sports have ties to other nations that also have dubious reputations for human rights. It’s not an isolated incident. The WTA Tour, led by Chairman and CEO Steve Simon, highlighted the organization’s stance on China in what was a very challenging month for tennis.
Simon has stressed that the WTA tour will leave the country and its massive investment in the sport unless it can be satisfied with Peng’s health and wellbeing. A social media post from the former number 1 in doubles on Nov. 2 raised concerns about her safety that continue to reverberate around the world.
She was not heard for a fortnight after the post, which was quickly deleted. While she has made several public appearances recently, they have appeared choreographed and haven’t addressed all concerns.
“We are definitely ready to pull out of business and deal with any complications that come with it,” Simon told CNN this month.
It has been estimated that a move to sever ties with China could cost the WTA tour, which is heavily dependent on the nation, more than a billion dollars in revenue. How things will continue in this particularly tense situation is uncertain. It’s one that can play out over the years.
Can the WTA tour thrive if ties with China are severed? Will China freeze the organization even if it is ultimately satisfied with Peng’s safety? Can you be satisfied with that at all? And what happens to the other tennis players from China who are currently or will be on tour?
There are currently six Chinese women in the top 200. They are probably hoping to emulate the success of the double Grand Slam individual champion Li Na or, as it should be said, win a double title at Wimbledon or Roland Garros, as Peng did did.
Just before the worrying situation around Peng arose, Simon spoke on record of his hopes for the return of the WTA Tour to China in 2022-2030.
“Our support in the Asia Pacific region, particularly China, has had a rich history of growth and talent,” Simon said on the Tennis Majors website in October.
In a French tennis magazine, WTA President Micky Lawler lamented the impact on the women’s tour of the loss of tournaments in China due to Covid-19 in September.
“Covid was not to be expected. Can you name a person who would have said no to China, please? ”Lawler said. “This was an opportunity for all women’s sport with unprecedented prize money records. We were proud when we announced it and still are. “
There is optimism that it will be possible to thrive in new markets, some of which have been tested this year, although dividends will almost certainly be far lower should the situation worsen.
As the world is closely watching the situation and making statements of support and concern for Peng, it appears that business with China is continuing for other organizations. The Beijing Winter Olympics in February will continue, despite the prospect of a diplomatic boycott in Australia on Thursday, as in other countries.
There is no indication that the ATP Tour will not host major tournaments in October if sporting events are allowed to take place in China after the pandemic. And the Asia-Pacific Grand Slam, also known as the Australian Open, will begin another uncertain tennis year.