WTA warns suspension of Chinese events could go beyond 2022

Associated Press/Andy Brownbill

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) could suspend tournaments in China beyond 2022 amid the ongoing controversy surrounding sexual assault allegations leveled by Peng Shuai, its president said Thursday.

Steve Simon told The Associated Press he is “hopeful we get to the right place,” but the WTA is prepared to suspend tournaments in China indefinitely — doubling down on his calls for Chinese authorities to investigate Peng’s claims against a former top Beijing official.

“The one thing that we can’t do is walk away from this, because if we’re walking away from the key elements — which is obviously not only her well-being, but the investigation — then we’re telling the world that not addressing sexual assault with respect to the seriousness it requires is OK, because it’s too difficult. And it’s simply something that we can’t let happen,” Simon told the AP in a video call. “This is an organizational effort that is really addressing something that’s about what’s right and wrong.”

The WTA announced Wednesday that it is suspending all tournaments in China, which typically hosts up to 10 of its events annually. In a statement, Simon repeated his calls for an investigation into Peng’s allegations and asked for assurances that the athlete is safe.

Peng disappeared for weeks after she published a post on social media alleging a former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official sexually assaulted her.

She reappeared in a video conference on Nov. 21 with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a call some say was orchestrated by the CCP.

The European Union and Biden administration also have called for an open investigation into Peng’s allegations.

The WTA stands to lose millions of dollars from the cancellations, though Simon said it could host the tournaments elsewhere, according to AP.

The IOC, meanwhile, has not suspended, delayed or canceled the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, slated to begin in February.

In a statement on Thursday, the IOC said it shared a second video call with Peng and plans to meet with her in person next month.

“There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety. We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations,” the statement read. “We are using ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.”

According to reporting from AP, China has criticized WTA’s decision. A spokesperson for the foreign ministry told reporters Beijing is “always firmly opposed to acts that politicize sports.”

The WTA, founded in 1973, represents 1,650 players spread across 85 nations, hosting 50 events and four grand slams annually. The WTA finals are typically held in China every year.

Praise for the WTA’s decision trickled in from across organizations, politicians and the tennis world.

Novak Djokovick told reporters at the Davis Cup he supported an investigation, and said the WTA’s move was “very bold and very courageous.”

In a tweet, the U.S. Tennis Association commended the WTA for “protecting the rights of women.”

“This type of leadership is courageous and what is needed to ensure the rights of all individuals are protected and all voices are heard,” the statement read.

Tags 2022 olympic games 2022 olympics Beijing Beijing Olympics China International Olympic Committee IOC Missing tennis star Peng Shuai professional tennis sexual assault allegations Steve Simon suspension Tennis Tennis tournaments Women's Tennis Association WTA WTA Finals WTA Tour

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