The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Chairman and CEO, Steve Simon, made an announcement on Wednesday that all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, have been suspended. The decision was made after the recent events surrounding tennis player Peng Shuai.
The tennis champion went missing for nearly three weeks after publicly accusing a former senior politician of sexual assault. On November 2nd, Peng made a lengthy statement on social media accusing 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli of raping her.
“She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage,” said Simon.
The social media post was since taken down by authorities.
For 18 days, Peng wasn’t seen or heard from until this past Sunday where she was seen on video at the Filas Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals in Beijing’s National Tennis Center. Although it has been confirmed that Peng is no longer missing, questions continue about her well-being.
“While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference,” said Simon.
“I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.”
Simon said if the concerns about Peng’s safety continue, the suspension of all WTA tournaments in China could extend beyond 2022. “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’s decision to halt all their events in China could cost the association and its players hundreds of millions of dollars. The tournaments alone bring in tens of millions of dollars annually.
Simon said he had repeatedly called for China to carry out an inquiry into Peng’s allegations against Gaoli.
“We still haven’t been able to have that conversation to have the comfort that what we’re seeing isn’t being orchestrated, to date. The second element of that is that we want a full and transparent — without any level of censorship — investigation on the allegations that were made.”
Simon said the WTA has not been able to properly communicate with Peng since the incident began.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) made a statement on Thursday affirming that it “stood in support of all women’s rights,” and that “the allegations Peng made must be addressed.”
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) also released a statement on Thursday, urging for an open line of direct communication between the WTA and Shuai “in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation.”