It’s been more than two weeks since the WTA expressed deep concern over Peng Shuai’s whereabouts. In the latest statement, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon has revealed that he now knowns where the tennis player is, but since he is still unconvinced that she is free and uncensored, he has made a historic yet not unexpected decision to suspend all tournaments in China.
Former doubles world No.1 Peng Shuai accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Her testimony was posted on her official Weibo account in the beginning of November and disappeared from it within minutes. Ever since making those claims, the professional athlete was nowhere to be seen and the entire WTA community was worried about her well-being. Actually, the 35-year-old Peng was supposedly seen several times, but none of those claims were considered to be from credible, free sources.
Good news is that the WTA has learned about Peng’s whereabouts. Bad news is that there is no end to censorship in China and the sexual assault case is still not getting appropriate investigation. Consequently, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon has made a groundbreaking decision:
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.
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.
Just over a decade ago, the WTA started its major Tour presence and expansion into China market, including investments in new stadium facilities. China has since hosted numerous top-tier tournaments, led by the WTA Finals scheduled to be hosted in Shenzhen from 2019 to 2030 (the 2020 edition was canceled because of COVID-19 pandemic, while this year’s tournament was moved to Guadalajara, Mexico for the same reason).
However, after years of growing tennis in China, the WTA is announcing withdrawal:
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.
(photos by Jimmie48)
And Li Na was a major influence in getting tournaments started over in China, with her success on the court, but also with her influence in growing women’s tennis in that country. It may be all for naught. Will China call WTA’s bluff? They didn’t have to call anything with the NBA or Nike as they both kowtowed to Chinese money and profits.