WTA Stands Against China Over Peng Shuai by Suspending Tournaments

The women’s tennis tour will not hold tournaments in China, including Hong Kong

Peng Shuai of China at the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
Peng Shuai of China at the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
Fred Lee/Getty

In a move that the International Olympic Committee seems extremely unlikely to emulate, the Women’s Tennis Association has taken a stand against China over its handling of the Peng Shuai situation and is suspending all of its tournaments in the communist nation, including Hong Kong.

Shuai, 35, has not been seen in public since alleging on social media last month that former Chinese vice premier  Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her shortly after he stepped down from his position in 2017. She has appeared in a number of videos with Chinese officials that seemed a bit fishy and may have been staged.

“Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you,” Shuai wrote in her post, which was subsequently deleted.

The IOC has claimed it has spoken with Shuai — who was once ranked No. 1 in doubles and as high as No. 14 in singles but has not competed on the WTA Tour since February 2020 — on multiple occasions, but WTA officials have been unable to speak directly with her since she made the accusations against Gaoli.

With the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing just months away, the WTA is the first — and so far only — major sports organization to take a stand against China’s authoritarian government and its handling of Shuai.

“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. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players,” Steve Simon, the chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, said in a statement. “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.”

According to The Washington Post, it will cost the WTA a billion dollars or more to suspend its tournaments in China and Hong Kong, which makes it extremely unlikely the IOC or the Association of Tennis Professionals (the governing body for the men’s tour) will follow suit and boycott China. But perhaps some other organizations will. Even if none do, the WTA’s stance is still important.

“Does it matter that a single organization, the women’s tennis tour, takes a stance against the monolithic Chinese government?” per the Post‘s Sally Jenkins. “It matters. It matters in the way that any small act of righteous dissent matters because each has a way of gathering momentum.”

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