WTA suspends tournaments in China over Peng Shuai concerns
"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."
The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has announced the immediate suspension of all of its tournaments in China due to concerns about the safety of Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai.
The 35-year-old recently accused a top Chinese official of sexual assault, and disappeared from public view for nearly three weeks after doing so.
In a post shared on social media platform Weibo, Peng said she had been "forced" into a sexual relationship with the country's vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli. The post has since disappeared from Weibo.
With concerns growing for Peng, she eventually confirmed that she was safe and well in late November.
However, in a lengthy statement from the WTA, chair and CEO Steve Simon has said he has "serious doubts" that Peng is "free, safe and not subject to intimidation". Because of this, he explained, he had made the decision to suspend all WTA events in the country.
"Peng’s message has been removed from the internet and discussion of this serious issue has been censored in China," Simon's statement reads.
"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.
"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.
"As a result, and 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."
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