The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has announced that it would suspend all tournaments in China as the body is concerned about the safety of Peng Shuai. Over the course of the last few weeks, WTA has been involved in a tussle with Beijing regarding Shuai’s well-being. “When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted an allegation of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, the Women’s Tennis Association recognized that Peng Shuai’s message had to be listened to and taken seriously. The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less,” Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO said in an official statement.
“From that moment forward, 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,” he added.
Simon also said that the body continues to remain concerned about Shuai’s well-being and hence all tournaments are being suspended in China.
“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,” said Simon.
“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. 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,” he added.
Shuai had sent shockwaves when she accused Zhang Gaoli, a senior Chinese government official, of sexual abuse. The highest-profile case in China’s #MeToo movement was kept under tight wraps with the reputation of the officials involved safeguarded at all costs.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week said in a statement that its president, Thomas Bach, had a 30-minute video call with three-time Olympian Peng Shuai, joined by a Chinese sports official and an IOC official.
The statement said that, during the call, Peng appeared to be “doing fine” and “relaxed,” and said she “would like to have her privacy respected”. The IOC did not explain how the video call with Peng had been organized, given the difficulties other concerned parties have had reaching her.