The Women’s Tennis Association announced on Wednesday the immediate suspension of all its tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. The decision was taken amid continued concerns in the organisation over the status of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
Peng Shuai, effectively, disappeared from public view for weeks after she made allegations of sexual abuse against Zhang Gaoli, a former vice-premier of China and one-time high-ranking member of the Communist party elite. The allegations were made in a post on Weibo on November 2. However, the post was immediately scrubbed.
Peng was spotted at a tennis tournament in Beijing later in November and also told an International Olympic Committee official she was well. However, widespread concern about her safety persists.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon faulted the approach of the Chinese government on the issue. “Unfortunately, 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.
Highlighting the importance of the Peng Shuai case, Simon said, “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.”
Defending the decision to suspend all WTA tournaments, 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.”
Simon argued the approach of the Chinese authorities had left the WTA with “no choice”.
Importance of China for the WTA
China has been a lucrative market for the WTA. In 2019, nine WTA events were held in China, including the season-ending finals, with a total prize money of $30.4 million, BBC Sport reported.
Simon acknowledged to BBC Sport he was worried about the financial impact of not playing in China, but affirmed the Peng Shuai issue was “bigger than business”. He declared, “This is something that we simply cannot walk away from. If we walk away from what we have requested, what we are telling the world is [that] not addressing sexual assault with the respect and seriousness that it requires is OK, and it is just not…”
What about men?
Simon told BBC Sport he would not ask the Association of Tennis Professionals, the men’s tour, for a similar approach to China, though he claimed the men’s body was supportive of the WTA’s stance.
“I do not think it [ATP not suspending tournaments] undermines our position. Our position is about what is best for the WTA and women’s athletes and we are going to stick with that position. Others will make the decisions they think are appropriate to them,” Simon told BBC Sport.
Can’t entertain plea at behest of political party: SC on plea by CPI(M) against demolition in Shaheen Bagh
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Monday refused to entertain a plea filed by CPI(M) again…