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Women’s Tennis Association suspends tournaments in China over concerns over player Peng Shuai

In the strongest public position against China taken by a sports body, the professional women’s tennis tour manager announced on Wednesday that all Women’s Tennis Association tournaments there will be suspended due to concerns about the safety of the woman. Peng Shuai, a doubles Grand Slam champion who accused a former government official of sexual assault.

Peng withdrew from the public after raising the allegations about former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in a November 2 social media post that was quickly suppressed by Chinese authorities.

“Unfortunately, the Chinese leadership has not credibly tackled this very serious issue,” Steve Simon, president and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), wrote in a statement released by the tour. “Although we now know Peng’s whereabouts, I seriously doubt that she is free, safe, and free from censorship, coercion and intimidation.”

Simon has repeatedly called for what he called Wednesday a “full and transparent investigation – without censorship” into Peng’s charges. He said the decision to end touring play in China, including Hong Kong, came “with the full support of the WTA board.”

“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 apparently been pressured to contradict his allegation of sexual assault,” Simon said.

“Considering the current state of affairs, I am also very concerned about the risks all of our players and staff may face if we host events in China in 2022.”

China is said to be the site of several tennis tournaments next year, including the prestigious WTA season-ending finals, set to be held there until 2030.

The nation is a source of billions of dollars in revenue for various sporting entities based elsewhere, from the WTA (headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla.) To the NBA (out of New York) and the International Olympic Committee ( Lausanne, Switzerland).

The WTA from the “good side of history”: Billie Jean King

“I applaud Steve Simon and the WTA leadership for their strong stance in defending human rights in China and around the world,” said tennis legend Billie Jean King.

“The WTA has chosen to be on the right side of history by standing up for the rights of our players. This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sport.”

Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympics from February 4, and IOC President Thomas Bach said on November 21 that he spoke with Peng – a three-time Olympian – during a video call from 30 minutes. The IOC did not release a video or transcript of the exchange and only said that Bach reported that Peng said she was fine.

The organization said in a statement that Peng appeared to be “doing well” and had requested confidentiality. The IOC did not explain how the appeal was organized, although it has worked closely with the Chinese Olympic Committee and government officials to organize the next Olympics.

Critics suggested that Peng wouldn’t have called the IOC if she was truly free to speak.

The European Union said on Tuesday it wanted China to offer “verifiable proof” that Peng – a 35-year-old who was previously ranked No.1 in doubles and won titles at Wimbledon and Roland Garros – is safe.

“His recent public reappearance does not allay concerns about his security and freedom,” an EU spokesperson said.

A number of Chinese businessmen, activists and ordinary people have disappeared in recent years after criticizing prominent figures in the ruling Communist Party or as part of crackdowns on corruption or campaigns for corruption. democracy and labor rights.

Former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli is seen during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in March 2016. Chinese authorities have hushed up virtually all discussions online about the sexual assault charges against him. former senior government official by Peng. (Ng Han Guan / The Associated Press)

“I will always tell the truth”

In his since-deleted post, Peng wrote, in part, “I know that for you, Vice Minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high rank and power, you said that you are not afraid. With your intelligence, you will definitely deny it or you can even use it against me, you can reject it without worry. Even if I destroy myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a moth flying in a flame, I will always say the truth about us. “

Concerns about her post being censored and her subsequent disappearance from public view escalated into fury, making #WhereIsPengShuai a trending topic on social media and receiving support from tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Martina Navratilova, and Canadian players including Genie Bouchard, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.

But news of the first MeToo case to reach the political realm in China has not been reported by national media, and online discussions about it have been heavily censored.

“If powerful people can stifle women’s voices and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the foundation on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer a huge setback,” Simon said. .

“I will not and cannot let this happen to the WTA and its players.”

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.