How WTA Chief Steve Simon Took on China Over Peng Shuai

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Simon’s refusal to accept China’s authoritarian stance on human rights once it directly affected one of his players stands in stark contrast to several high-profile leaders in sports who have repeatedly bent to the desires of the Chinese, including Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Simon has been concerned about Peng’s physical safety but also believed, as did the members of his player council and others he communicates with regularly in a player chat group, that the silencing of Peng and her sexual assault allegation amounted to a direct attack on the principle of equality upon which the WTA was founded.

“It’s now December and we’ve not seen any meaningful progress,” he said Wednesday night.

Simon, a 66-year-old Southern California native, played tennis at Long Beach State University and mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1981 alongside Lea Antonoplis. He has spent his adult life in tennis coaching, running the tennis program for Adidas, and organizing and eventually directing the BNP Paribas Open, a joint men’s and women’s event in Indian Wells, Calif., known as the fifth Grand Slam.

All along, Simon was quietly gaining authority within tennis circles, even if few of the players knew him particularly well. He began serving on the board of the WTA in 2004.

In 2009, he worked to get Stacey Allaster, then the president of the WTA, appointed as the next chief executive. Allaster said during a rough moment for her candidacy, she privately asked Simon if he might be a better fit to lead the organization.

“Without a blink he turned to me and said, ‘No, we’re going to stay the course,’” Allaster said.

Six years later, after Allaster decided to step down, the WTA board unanimously selected Simon to succeed her. He has since cultivated the support of the sport’s biggest stars of the present and past, including Serena Williams and King, the founder of the WTA, while maintaining his decades-long relationships with the tournament directors who were his initial base of support.

NYT

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