In response to the situation revolving around Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has announced the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China and Hong Kong. Peng had accused a former high-ranking Chinese government official of sexual assault in a social media post dating back to November 2.
The post was promptly deleted from the Twitter-like platform Weibo and Peng has neither been seen nor reachable since making her allegations public. Her disappearance has sparked fears about her safety and the hashtag “whereisPengShuai” started trending on Twitter this week after several fellow players spoke out, demanding a full investigation.
An email allegedly written by Peng and published by state-owned Chinese television broadcaster CGTN only raised further concerns about Peng Shuai’s whereabouts. In the email sent to WTA Chairman and CEO Steven Simon, Peng disputes the allegations of sexual assault, saying “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe.”
"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," Simon said in a WTA statement on Wednesday. "None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable," he continued. "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." While the WTA had threatened such drastic measures from the start, it is both remarkable and laudable how firmly the organization has been standing by its player in this difficult situation.
After all, the women’s tennis governing body has a lot riding on its relationship with China. Over the past decade, the WTA has made a big push into the country, adding tournaments and building partnerships in what is one of the most important growth markets for tennis. In 2019, the last season undisrupted by COVID-19, the WTA held 9 tournaments in China, with total prize money exceeding $30 million. "We're definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it," Simon had said in a CNN interview last month. With yesterday's decision, he has proven that those weren't empty words.