The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) on Thursday announced of suspending all tennis tournaments in China with immediate effect due to concerns over Chinese player Peng Shuai, who had accused a top government official of sexual assault.
Notably, the whereabouts of Peng had became a matter of international concern almost a month ago as the former doubles world No 1 had disappeared after alleging former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.
However, she later appeared at a dinner with friends and at a youth tennis tournament in Beijing few days back.
Issuing a statement, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said that the safety of players is of paramount concern.
“When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted an allegation of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, the Women’s Tennis Association recognized that Peng Shuai’s message had to be listened to and taken seriously. The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less. From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved. As Peng said in her post, ‘Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you’. She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage,” Simon said.
He added that since then, the issue had been censored in China while Chinese officials “have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner.”
“Unfortunately,” he added: “the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. 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.”
Simon said he “very much regret [s]it has come to this point” and that “the tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years.” “However,” he added, “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.”