The WTA, the governing body of women’s tennis, does not trust the Chinese government or the conclusions of the recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
“It’s always good to see Peng Shuai, whether in an interview or attending the Olympic Games”, Steve Simon, WTA’s CEO and Chairman, said in a statement.
“However, her recent in-person interview does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2nd. To reiterate our view, Peng took a bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader. As we would do with any of our players globally, we have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng - privately - to discuss her situation”.
Last weekend, the Chinese player entered the Olympic closed loop to meet with IOC’s President Thomas Bach, and opened up to a French newspaper.
But amid this effort to make it appear that everything is fine in Peng’s life, questions remain about her safety and how free she is to express herself following her allegation — and then retraction — of sexual assault against a former high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official.
That’s the WTA position too: “We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai.”
The tennis player’s statements are disconcerting.
“Sexual assault? I never said that anyone made me submit to a sexual assault,” Peng told L’Equipe in an hour-long interview with many restrictions. She said her November social media post “resulted in an enormous misunderstanding from the outside world.”
Peng also claimed that she never disappeared, although the Women’s Tennis Association had concerns about her whereabouts.
“Everyone could see me,” Peng said. “It’s just that a lot of people, like my friends, including from the IOC, messaged me, and it was quite impossible to reply to so many messages.”
While she thanked everyone for caring about her, she said, “But I didn’t think there would be such concern and I would like to know: why such concern?”
The WTA, which from the beginning had a very combative attitude in the case, announced at the end of 2021 its decision to cancel all circuit tournaments played on Chinese territory, a key market for the governing body of women’s tennis.
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 prompted President Joe Biden’s decision to declare a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, something that was joined by Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, among others.