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WTA suspends China tournaments

Peng Shuai was not seen in public for three weeks after making allegations of sexual assault

The Women’s Tennis Association has announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China amid concern for Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.

Peng disappeared from public view for three weeks after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

WTA chief Steve Simon said he had “serious doubts” that Peng was “free, safe and not subject to intimidation”.

“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there,” he said.

The WTA has repeatedly called for a full investigation into Peng’s claims.

There was widespread concern for Peng after she accused former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

She said she was “safe and well” during a video call with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Council, in November.

However, the WTA said the video was “insufficient evidence” of Peng’s safety.

In a lengthy statement, Simon said he was “greatly concerned” about the risks players and staff could face if events were held in China in 2022.

“The leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” he said.

“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.”

The suspension also includes tournaments in Hong Kong.

There have been no WTA events in China for the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the governing body has heavily relied on Chinese investment in its tour in recent years, leading to a number of lucrative tournaments being held in the country.

China hosted nine tournaments in the 2019 season, including the season-ending WTA Finals, with a total of $30.4m (£22.6m) in prize money.

Peng, a former world number one in doubles, wrote on Chinese social media site Weibo that she was forced into a sexual relationship with Zhang.

The post was taken down minutes later and Peng was not seen in public for some time.

A number of tennis players and athletes used the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai on Twitter to draw attention to the issue.

“I very much regret it has come to this point but China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice,” Simon added.

“Unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China.

“I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue.”

China issued a statement on October, stating “people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping [the issue] up, let alone politicise this issue”.

Zhang Gaoli, who retired from his government role in 2018, has yet to addressexternal-link the claims.

The 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics are set to be held in Beijing in February and March.




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