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WTA announces intent to suspend all tournaments in China
The move stems from the ongoing incident involving Peng Shuai's sexual assault allegations against a retired government official.
Published Dec 01, 2021
The Women’s Tennis Association has announced it will suspend all tournaments in China and Hong Kong with immediate effect.
In a statement released by WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon, the decision stems from the ongoing fallout from Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegations against a retired government official and subsequent removal from social media.
“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,” Simon wrote. “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 incident began on November 2 when Peng, a former WTA doubles No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, posted a lengthy essay on social media, one that detailed multiple allegations of sexual assault and coercion against Zhang Gaoli, China’s former Vice Premier. Shortly after the message appeared on Weibo, the country’s most popular social media platform, Peng’s post and profile were scrubbed and users were unable to search or post about Peng without receiving an error message. Her digital disappearance led fans to create the #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag to spread awareness of her situation, and top players including Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic amplified the message.
...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. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO
“Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved. As Peng said in her post, “even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you." She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage.”
Simon made repeated attempts to contact Peng before receiving an email that could not be verified for its authenticity. Further proof of life images and videos have circulated on social media, but none have satisfied the WTA’s concerns about her safety and well-being.
“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.”
The WTA has created a substantial footprint in China in the last decade, and planned to host as many as 11 tournaments in China during the 2020 season—culminating in the WTA Finals in Shenzhen—before the COVID-19 pandemic caused nearly all of those events to be canceled. The tour has yet to return to China for any international events in 21 months, and the WTA Finals were hosted in Guadalajara, Mexico last month.
“I very much regret it has come to this point,” Simon concluded. “The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years. They should be proud of their achievements, hospitality, and success. However, unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China. China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice. I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue.”
The tennis community, led by current and former WTA players themselves, were quick to lend their support to Simon and the tour on social media: