The head of WTA on Wednesday announced that the women’s professional tennis tour body has decided to suspend all the WTA tournaments from China at the onset of growing concerns around Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. In this public stand against China, the sports body has also highlighted the safety concerns for other players has China has been drawing quite a bit of criticism following its silence on Peng Shuai’s sexual abuse allegations.
On November 2, Peng, a Grand Slam doubles champion, shared a post on Twitter accusing former Chinese Vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually harassing her. The post was taken down half an hour later and, since then, Peng has been out of public view.
In part, the 35-year old tennis player’s removed post read, “I know that to you, vice-minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high status and power, you’ve said you’re not afraid. With your intelligence, you certainly will deny it or you can even use it against me, you can dismiss it without a care. Even if I’m destroying myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a moth flying into a flame, I will still speak out the truth about us.”
“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon stated in a statement put out by the tour. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.”
Following Beijing’s attempts to censor the entire matter, Simon has repeatedly demanded a ‘full and transparent investigation’ on the matter. In a statement earlier this month, he had also indicated the suspension of WTA events from China if the Government fail to address the issue transparently.
Simon said, “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”
In recent years, China’s Government has been infamous for censoring any views criticizing its communist regime. As a result, the international tennis community is concerned about the whereabouts of Peng. Several fellow tennis peers have expressed their concerns using #WhereIsPengShuai on Twitter.
“I applaud Steve Simon and the WTA leadership for taking a strong stand on defending human rights in China and around the world,” Billie Jean King said. “The WTA has chosen to be on the right side of history in defending the rights of our players. This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports.”
Even though IOC President Thomas Bach, on November 21, said that he spoke to Peng on a 30-minute video call, critics are still skeptical. IOC also has not released any footage or transcript of the call.
Notably, China is supposed to host a number of tennis tournaments in the next year alongside the Winter Games starting from February 4.
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