WTA suspends all tournaments in China due to Peng Shuai situation

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The Women's Tennis Association announced Wednesday that it is suspending all of its tournaments in China due to the Chinese government's alleged inaction regarding Peng Shuai's accusation of sexual assault and continuing questions about her safety, wellbeing and freedom. 

In a statement, WTA CEO Steve Simon explained the decision to immediately suspend tournaments in China.

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.

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. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.

As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. 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.

The WTA has seriously invested in Chinese women's tennis, so the decision to pull out of China could cost the organization hundreds of millions.

Tennis - Australian Open - First Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 21, 2020  China's Shuai Peng in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
China's handling of Peng Shuai's sexual assault allegation led to the WTA suspending all tournaments in China and Hong Kong (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

Peng's true status remains unknown

In early November, Peng publicly accused a high-ranking government official of sexually assaulting her in a post on Chinese social media site Weibo. The Chinese government erased her post from Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform, and censored all mentions of it, but it couldn't put the toothpaste back in the tube: Peng's accusation was public knowledge. 

For weeks after she made the accusation, no one saw or heard from Peng. The WTA received assurances from the Chinese Tennis Association that Peng was safe, but no one could directly reach her. Simon received an email in mid-November that appeared to be from Peng, but he doubted it was actually from her.

Several videos of Peng surfaced Nov. 20, which showed her walking through a restaurant and at dinner with her coach and her friends. On the video of Peng at dinner, several of her friends curiously mentioned that it was Nov. 20 several times. A third video was later released that appeared to show her being introduced at the opening ceremony of a youth tennis tournament. 

Simon and the WTA were glad to see videos of Peng, but noted in a statement that it was unclear whether she was being coerced. It's also unclear if she was coerced on a Nov. 21 video call with the International Olympic Committee. The IOC said in a statement that Peng told it she was "safe and well" and living in Beijing, but haven't released a video or transcript of the call, or a statement from Peng herself. 

While longtime IOC member Dick Pound said Wednesday that everyone who witnessed the call "unanimously" agreed that Peng was fine, the IOC's impartiality has been called into question, as the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics are taking place in China. 

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