WTA suspends tournaments in China over Peng Shuai situation


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The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) on Wednesday said it would immediately suspend lucrative tournaments in China over concerns over the treatment of former world number one doubles Peng Shuai and the safety of other players.

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The decision to withdraw from tournaments that could cost the US-headquartered WTA hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcast and sponsorship comes as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics next February .

Peng’s fate has become a matter of international concern after a public absence of nearly three weeks after posting a social media post in early November alleging that former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her. Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government has commented on his allegation.

“I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to participate when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has apparently been pressured to contradict his allegation of sexual assault,” said the general manager of WTA Steve Simon in a statement.

“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.”

Peng appeared in mid-November at a dinner with friends and children’s tennis tournament in Beijing, photos and videos posted by Chinese state media reporters and tournament organizers show .

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On November 21, IOC President Thomas Bach had a 30-minute video call with Peng – a three-time Olympian – in which she told him she was safe and with her family and friends.

But Simon, who said the decision to suspend tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, had the full support of the WTA board, said they were not convinced all was well with it. Peng.

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“Although we now know Peng’s whereabouts, I seriously doubt that she is free, safe and free from censorship, coercion and intimidation,” Simon said.

“The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we reiterate our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s charge of sexual assault.”

The aggressive expansion of the WTA in China began just before the Beijing Olympic tennis tournament in 2008, and local interest in the sport was fueled by Li Na winning the 2011 French Open.

In 2008, China only hosted two WTA events. This went to nine in 2019.

In 2018, the city of Shenzhen entered into a 10-year contract to host the end-of-season WTA Tour Finals with a mind-boggling offer that doubled the prize pool to $ 14 million per year. The WTA also announced a 10-year deal starting in 2017 with streaming platform iQiyi as a digital rights partner in China, worth an estimated $ 120 million.

Simon previously said the WTA would back down if they were not satisfied with the response to Peng’s allegations.

“Unless China takes the action we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by hosting events in China,” Simon said on Wednesday.

“Chinese leaders have left the WTA with no choice. I remain hopeful that our appeals will be heard and that the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this problem. “


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