ATP reacts with caution to WTA’s severing of ties with China

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.

Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman
Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman

The ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, reacted with caution to the severing of relations with China announced by the WTA this week.

“We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact. We will continue to consult with our members and monitor any developments as this issue evolves”, said the organization led by former Italian tennis player Andrea Gaudenzi in a statement released Thursday.

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″.

The case of Peng Shuai moves and intrigues the world of sport and politics: the Chinese player disappeared from the scene after denouncing that she had suffered sexual violence by a high-ranking official of the Chinese Communist Party. She later reappeared, but asked to be left alone. The WTA does not believe that Peng is today master of her will.

“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”, Simon said.

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

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

The ATP led by Gaudenzi opted for a certain caution in the face of the drastic step taken by the WTA.

“The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport. The response to those concerns has so far fallen short. We again urge for a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation”.

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