WTA takes China head-on, suspends all tournaments in China over Peng Shuai’s safety concerns

Peng Shuai, Chinese tennis star and former doubles champion. Image: Getty. 

DHARAMSALA, 2 Dec: The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of former doubles world number one Peng Shuai and the safety of other players.

“With the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong,” read a statement issued by the WTA chief executive Steve Simon.

‘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.” 

The WTA had scheduled 10 tournaments in China in 2022.

Simon, who was the WTA Chairman and CEO since 2015 has said that ‘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.’

Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion disappeared for nearly three weeks after she accused the former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her following a round of tennis in Beijing three years ago on her China’s Twitter-like Weibo handle in early November.

The 35-year-old former tennis star’s whereabouts became a matter of international concern. However, on Sunday, the IOC released a statement, along with a picture of Peng on a video call, insisting the tennis player is ‘safe and well.’ 

The statement read that she is ‘living at her home in Beijing’ but wants her ‘privacy respected.’

Expressing his dissatisfaction over how China handled the situation, the head of the women’s professional tennis tour has stated that the cancellation of the tournaments can go beyond 2022 if the situation continues as it is, reported the AP.

‘The leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” he has said and added that ‘If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback.”

He concluded by declaring that “I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”

While there have been no WTA events in China for the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic and it is not likely to return soon, it now remains to be seen if the ATP, the men’s governing body, will follow suit or not.

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