The WTA takes a bold step and cancels all its tournaments in China in repudiation of Peng Shuai’s situation: “None of this is acceptable”

Simon’s decision on the WTA puts pressure on Italy’s Andrea Gaudenzi, the head of the ATP, but is a blow especially for the Winter Games starting on February 4.

Zhang Gaoli, a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official, 
and Peng Shuai / AFP
Zhang Gaoli, a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official, and Peng Shuai / AFP

The WTA, the governing body of women’s tennis, took a bold step on Wednesday by canceling all its tournaments in China, in protest against the situation of the player Peng Shuai. The decision, just two months before the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, is a major blow to the Chinese government.

“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”, Steve Simon, WTA’s Chairman and CEO, announced.

“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″.

Simon gave a detailed review of what has happened in recent weeks regarding the two-time Grand Slam doubles champion.

Tennis - WTA Tour Finals - Panamerican Tennis Center, Guadalajara, Mexico - November 15, 2021 Micky Lawler, President of the WTA with Chief Executive WTA tour Steve Simon before the match. Picture taken November 15, 2021 REUTERS/Henry Romero
Tennis - WTA Tour Finals - Panamerican Tennis Center, Guadalajara, Mexico - November 15, 2021 Micky Lawler, President of the WTA with Chief Executive WTA tour Steve Simon before the match. Picture taken November 15, 2021 REUTERS/Henry Romero

“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.

“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.

“Since then, Peng’s message has been removed from the internet and discussion of this serious issue has been censored in China. Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair, and transparent manner.

“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”.

People walk near a building topped with the five Olympic Rings in Shougang Park, the site of venues of the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, in Beijing, China, November 30, 2021.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter
People walk near a building topped with the five Olympic Rings in Shougang Park, the site of venues of the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, in Beijing, China, November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The Peng Shuai case is the biggest blow to China since less than three decades ago when the world’s most populous country, led by a single-party regime, the Communist Party, began to become one of the main organizers of major world sporting events.

Thus it was that the Olympic Games came to Beijing in 2008, the culmination of a process that included world championships in swimming, athletics, women’s soccer and countless other sports.

Tennis found a great vein in China, with multiple WTA and ATP tournaments, the governing body of men’s tennis. Simon’s decision on the WTA puts pressure on Italy’s Andrea Gaudenzi, the head of the ATP, but is a blow especially for the Winter Games starting on February 4.

Joe Biden, President of the United States, already announced in November that he is analyzing a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games, a step that would also be taken by Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, among others.

That an organization with powers far below those of a nation state, the WTA, would go much further would redouble the pressure on Washington, Ottawa, Canberra, London and other capitals to go in the same direction.

Simon further stressed that not reacting to what is happening would be a betrayal of the WTA’s core values.

“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.

“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 International Tennis Federation (ITF), chaired by American Dave Haggerty, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is following the case closely on a day-to-day basis, Around the Rings has learned.

ITF announcements about its tournaments in China are not ruled out.

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