All Women’s Tennis Association tournaments scheduled to be played in China have been suspended over concerns for the safety of player Peng Shuai.
The head of the WTA said it was taking the step after Peng accused the former Vice Premier of China of sexual assault and then dropped out of public view. The social media post in which she made her allegations was quickly taken down by Chinese authorities and all mention of the subject was banned on China’s strictly monitored internet.
“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon wrote in a statement distributed 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.”
Mr Simon repeated his call for a “full and transparent investigation – without censorship” into Peng’s accusations against Zhang Gaoli and he has taken an unusually strong stand against China, which was supposed to be the site of several tennis tournaments next year, including the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals.
“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,” he said. “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 video called the International Olympics Committee last month, to say she was “doing well”, although footage and transcripts have not been released by the organisation. The IOC did not explain how the call was arranged, although it has worked closely with the Chinese Olympic Committee and government officials to organise the upcoming Olympics.
Critics have countered that Peng would not have chosen the IOC as the recipient of her call if she was actually free to speak. “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,” Mr Simon said.
“I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”
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