International

WTA suspends tournaments in China pending investigation into star Peng Shuai’s allegations

Associated Press/Andy Brownbill

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced it would suspend all tournaments in China and Hong Kong until an investigation is launched into the recent sexual assault allegations made by tennis star Peng Shuai.

Steve Simon, the president and CEO of the WTA, said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that Peng has “seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault” and “is not allowed to communicate freely,” which Simon said was not acceptable for the organization or its players.

“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,” Simon wrote. “I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”

Peng, a world-famous Olympic athlete who became the first Chinese tennis player to rank No. 1 in doubles, wrote in a now-deleted social media post in early November that she was sexually assaulted and emotionally abused by a former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official in 2018.

The tennis star went missing online shortly afterward, igniting concerns across the tennis and sporting world. The European Union as well as the WTA and the Biden administration have all called for a full and transparent investigation into Peng’s allegations.

Peng reappeared three weeks later in a video call with Chinese officials and the International Olympic Committee, which many criticized as orchestrated by the CCP.

Simon, however, said that video call was not transparent, and he repeated the WTA’s call for an investigation into Peng’s accusations.

“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,” Simon wrote in Wednesday’s statement. “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.”

Many applauded the WTA’s decision on Wednesday. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who runs a task force on China in the House, voiced support for the suspension.

“I commend the Board of the Women’s Tennis Association for an inspiring display of moral clarity and support for democratic values. Unfortunately, this is all too rare among those with financial ties to the PRC [China] and the CCP’s totalitarian abuses,” he said in a statement.

“I urge other sporting associations, especially those with athletes that compete in the Olympics, to join the WTA in this stand against injustice,” he added.

Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit human rights organization, said she was “heartened by this show of principle” from Simon and the WTA.

“The contrast between the WTA’s show of spine and the International Olympic Committee’s readiness to play along with the Beijing government’s campaign to deflect questions and blame is striking,” she said in a statement.

Updated: 5:19 p.m.

Tags China Chinese Communist Party Michael McCaul missing person Peng Shuai Sexual assault tennis star Women's Tennis Association

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