WTA suspends all games in China over ‘serious doubts’ about Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s safety

WTA to suspend games in China

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has officially announced its decision to suspend all tournaments in China and Hong Kong, further pressuring Beijing to investigate Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s accusation against a former top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official.

Tournament suspension: In a statement released on Wednesday, WTA CEO and chairman Steve Simon announced that all tournaments set to take place in China and Hong Kong would be suspended amid the growing concern over Peng’s safety.

  • Despite being given enough time to prove there was no coercion involved in Peng’s recent appearances, the Chinese government still failed to “address the very serious issue in any credible way,” Simon noted.
  • There have been no reports of any investigation into Peng’s allegation against former CCP Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, whom she accused of sexual coercion in a now-deleted Weibo post in early November. It was also not mentioned whether the three-time Olympian reported the incident to the police.
  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said a second video call was set up with Peng, who seemed “safe and well, given the difficult situation she is in.” The committee offered support and reportedly promised to keep in touch until an in-person meeting can be set up for January.
  • While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation,” Simon said. “The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”
  • Since the association’s principle is “equality for women,” Simon, with the support of the WTA Board of Directors, has decided to immediately suspend all WTA tournaments in China and Hong Kong, citing safety concerns for Peng, other athletes and WTA staff as the reason.
  • I very much regret it has come to this point. The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years,” Simon added. “However, unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China. China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice.”

Politics and sports: In response to the suspension on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China has “always been against behaviors politicizing sports.”

State-run paper Global Times called the WTA “betrayers of the Olympic spirit” and “a bad example” for “bringing politics into women’s tennis deeply.”

On the “right side of history”: WTA founder and Tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King applauded Simon and other WTA officials for their decision to stand up against human rights violations in China, Reuters reported.

  • The WTA has chosen to be on the right side of history in defending the rights of our players,” King said. “This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports.”
  • “[It] is something we cannot walk away from,” Simon said, “If we walk away from this, we’re basically telling the world that not addressing sexual assault with the respect and seriousness it requires is okay because it is difficult to do.” 
  • He added that it is “not what we stand for as an organization.”

Other details: More than two weeks after Peng went missing from the public eye, many tennis stars took to social media to raise awareness about her disappearance by using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

  • Simon threatened to f pull out all of the WTA’s tournaments in China at that time, saying that the organization was willing to lose an estimated $1 billion in funding, Yahoo! Sports Australia reported.
  • We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” he said in November. “Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business.”
  • The WTA had signed a 10-year deal with China in 2018 to be its host country for its tournaments, including the season-ending WTA Finals, ESPN reported at the time.

Featured Image via CNBC International TV

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