Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour Chairman Steve Simon announced on Wednesday that the women’s tennis circuit is suspending all tournaments in China due to concerns for Chinese player Peng Shuai.
“I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong,” stated the WTA Tour Chairman.
Ms Peng, a 35-year-old Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had disappeared for two weeks during November after revealing on social media that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. Her allegations were the first against the highest ranks of the CCP in China’s #MeToo movement.
“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there [in China] when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,” said Mr Simon.
“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.”
The CCP has removed Ms Peng’s sexual-assault allegation from social media, and the issue has been censored in Communist China.
“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,” Simon said.
“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way.”
The CCP media posted photos on Sunday of Ms Peng at a Beijing tennis tournament. She also talked with Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee President, in a video call. However, many remain worried about her safety.
“While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation,” said Mr Simon, “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.”
“None of this is acceptable, nor can it become acceptable. 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 continued.
“I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”
Although the cancellations of tournaments in China would significantly impact the WTA, Mr Simon said China’s leaders had left the WTA with no choice.
“I very much regret it has come to this point,” he stated, “However unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China.”
“I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue.”
The European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the United States and the United Kingdom are urging for evidence of Ms Peng’s location and well-being.
“I have been gratified by the massive amount of international support the WTA has received for its position on this matter,” Mr Simon said, “To further protect Peng and many other women throughout the world, it is more urgent than ever for people to speak out.”
“The WTA will do everything possible to protect its players. As we do so, I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications.”
Beijing plans to host the Winter Olympics in February. Countries worldwide, including the US and UK, are considering diplomatic boycotts of the event due to Communist China’s genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.
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