WTA’s threat to leave China over Peng Shuai’s disappearance puts Porsche and SAP in a bind

Peng, a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion, has disappeared from the public eye since she accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex in a social media post on November 2 that was removed within minutes. Concerns for their safety have increased after Chinese state media published a screenshot of an email, allegedly from Peng and sent to the WTA, in which they retracted their accusations and stated that “everything is fine.”

In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, WTA Executive Director Steve Simon said the player’s well-being and the need for her allegations to be properly investigated were “bigger than the business” the WTA has in China. .

“We are definitely willing to take our business out and deal with all the complications that come with it,” said Simon.

Two of the WTA official partners – Porsche, owned by Volkswagen (VLKAF)and German software manufacturer SAP (SAP) – may feel different about putting their own business at risk in the world’s second-largest economy by backing the association’s position on Peng.

CNN Business has reached out to both companies for comment. Neither has responded so far.

The silence of the WTA’s corporate partners contrasts with the growing calls for China to carry out a full and transparent investigation into their allegations. The United Nations Human Rights office on Friday urged Beijing to provide proof of its well-being, and the German Olympic Sports Federation made a similar call.

It is unclear if the WTA will follow through on Simon’s threat to pull the WTA out of China. But for now, its backers are “caught in the middle,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London.

“If they seem to back the WTA, the Chinese Communist Party and China will punish them in the Chinese market. If they don’t, women in democracies can boycott their products,” she told CNN Business.

Porsche has been in China for more than 20 years, according to the company. In August, The luxury sports car brand said it would build a permanent research and development center in Shanghai to enhance the development of local Chinese products, “allowing a sustained focus on what is Porsche’s largest single market.”

Porsche executive board chairman Oliver Blume said at the time: “Having a permanent home for this job in China will bring obvious benefits, particularly when it comes to reflecting and predicting the needs of our customers in China, a nation that It has truly welcomed Porsche and our cars as it has been our biggest selling market for six years in a row. ”

SAP is also committed to China as part of its global sales strategy, with six corporate locations and five software labs in the country.

Whoop, the maker of fitness trackers, is also a member of the WTA. CNN Business has reached out to Whoop for comment.

– Anna Cooban, Teele Rebane, and Michelle Toh contributed to this story.


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