China sexual harassment controversy | Tennis

WTA suspends events in China over Peng Shuai concerns

China's Peng Shuai. File Image.   | Photo Credit: AP

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has taken the unprecedented step of immediately suspending all of its events in China, citing the failure of the authorities to take up Chinese star Peng Shuai’s allegations of sexual abuse by a former senior Communist Party leader.

WTA Chairman Steve Simon said he was “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,” he said. “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.”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, reacting to the suspension, said China was against “politicising sport”.

Ms. Peng had posted a message on November 2 on Chinese social media revealing she had been sexually assaulted by former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli 10 years ago, when she was 25 and he was 65, and then subsequently began a years-long affair with him. The message was deleted by the censors within half an hour of being posted and was followed by an extensive censorship effort aimed at removing all information about the case.

The WTA and a number of stars expressed concerns about Ms. Peng’s whereabouts after she disappeared from public view for two weeks after the statement and had her account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter equivalent, blocked from public view.

Peng’s safety

Responding to the outpouring of concern, Chinese state media subsequently released videos showing the former women’s doubles world number one in Beijing, having dinner with friends and attending a youth tournament. The WTA responded saying the videos did not address questions about her safety or the allegations, adding that it had been unable to contact her.

Announcing the suspension of tournaments, Mr. Simon said, “When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted an allegation of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, the Women’s Tennis Association recognised that Peng Shuai’s message had to be listened to and taken seriously. The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less. From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved. As Peng said in her post, ‘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.’ She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage.”

He added that since then, the issue had been censored in China while Chinese officials “have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “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. 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.”

He said he “very much regret[s]it has come to this point” and that “the tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years.” “However,” he added, "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.”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 10:58:09 AM |

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