Women’s Tennis Association Suspends All Tournaments in China over Treatment of Peng Shuai

BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 28: Peng Shuai of China reacts during the Women's Singles first round match againstDaria Kasatkina of Russia during the 2019 China Open at the China National Tennis Center on September 28, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has canceled all of its tournaments scheduled in China over the continued questions about the safety and welfare of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.

On Wednesday, WTA chair Steven Simon announced that he is suspending all WTA games in China and Hong Kong “with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors.”

In his statement, Simon recounted the facts leading to the decision before blasting Chinese authorities for shutting the player away from public view.

Early in November, Shuai accused Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her in 2019. But Chinese officials quickly shut down her social media post discussing the accusation, and Shuai instantly disappeared from public view.

Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli makes a speech during the Philippines - China Trade and Investment Fourm at the Great Hall of the People on October...

BEIJING, CHINA – OCTOBER 20: Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli makes a speech during the Philippines – China Trade and Investment Forum at the Great Hall of the People on October 20, 2016 in Beijing, China. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is on a four-day state visit to China, his first since taking power in late June, with the aim of improving bilateral relations. (Photo by Wu Hong-Pool/Getty Images)

Nearly a week later, a strange message that the Chinese government claimed came from Shuai was posted in which the player supposedly recanted the accusation and said that all is well. However, Shuai has still not been seen in public or verifiably heard from since her social media account was shut down.

The WTA was quick to air calls for the Chinese government to step back and allow Shuai to speak openly for herself. The organization also threatened action unless they were assured that Shuai was in fact safe and free of coercion.

At last, the WTA is following through with its threats to boycott China over its treatment of of its top tennis player.

“None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable,” the WTA said of China’s actions against Shuai. “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 statement added:

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. In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.

I have been gratified by the massive amount of international support the WTA has received for its position on this matter. To further protect Peng and many other women throughout the world, it is more urgent than ever for people to speak out. The WTA will do everything possible to protect its players. As we do so, I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications.

Simon concluded saying that the WTA regrets having to make such a move, but the oppressive Chinese government has left them with no choice.

“…unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China. China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice. I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard, and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue,” Simon said.

The tennis organization’s actions are thus far the only substantive move the sports word has made in connection with the disappearance of the Chinese athlete.

Other organizations with deep ties to China — such as the NBA — have been practically silent in the face of China’s oppressive and political actions against Shuai. Leagues, such as the NBA and the NFL, that claim to be social justice warriors have virtually ignored China’s actions to punish a female athlete for speaking out about a sexual assault.

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