The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is suspending tournaments in China over concerns the body has for the safety of former doubles world number one Peng Shuai.
- The chief executive of the WTA says he fears Peng Shuai is living under intimidation
- Ms Peng recently alleged on social media she was sexually assaulted by a high-ranking Chinese politician
- Despite being seen in public since making the accusation, concerns remain over the safety of the former doubles star
Its immediate ban also includes tournaments to be played in Hong Kong.
The decision comes as uncertainty remains over the safety of former world number one doubles player Peng Shuai, who recently alleged on social media she was assaulted by China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.
In a statement released on Thursday morning AEST, WTA chief executive Steve Simon said the organisation “in good conscience” could not hold tournaments in China.
“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,” he said.
Mr Simon said the move to put a halt to the tour’s play in China, came with the backing of the WTA board of directors, players, tournaments and sponsors.
He has flagged the possibility that the suspension could result in cancellations of events beyond 2022.
“We’re hopeful we get to the right place, but we are prepared, if it continues as it is — which hasn’t been productive to date — that we will not be operating in the region,” he said.
After Ms Peng wrote on social media on November 2 about her alleged attack she disappeared from public life.
Her social media post was removed within minutes.
Chinese media has reported that Ms Peng attended a junior tournament in Bejing and the former doubles star also spoke with Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, saying she was “safe and well”.
However, fears remained for her safety, with the European Union demanding proof Peng was safe.
“While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation,” Simon said.
“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.
“I have been gratified by the massive amount of international support the WTA has received for its position on this matter.
“To further protect Peng and many other women throughout the world, it is more urgent than ever for people to speak out.”
Mr Simon said he hoped the international community would “continue to speak out so justice can be done for Ms Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications”.
The WTA head also said he remained hopeful that tournaments would return to China after Ms Peng’s accusations were investigated.
“The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years,” he said.
“They should be proud of their achievements, hospitality and success.
“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.”