WTA Suspends Tournaments in China Amid Peng Shuai Concern

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Photo by Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images

The Women’s Tennis Association announced the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China amid concerns about the safety of 35-year-old Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai.

Early last month, Peng accused 75-year-old former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault via social media. The post was quickly removed by Chinese authorities and the tennis star disappeared from the public light.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon wrote in a statement. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.”

“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,” Simon added. “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.”

The WTA has a lot to lose financially by damaging their relationship with China, but their stance might depict a turning point in the way sports will handle geopolitical issues in China.

The NBA is routinely criticized for overlooking Chinese human rights violations in favor of deals that are financially beneficial. Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter recently began calling out the NBA and its stars for not recognizing some of the deplorable government policies in China.

According to Reuters, China hosted two WTA events in 2008 and that number progressed to nine by 2019. The prize money in those nine tournaments totaled $30.4 million, including $13 million for the WTA Finals. In 2017, the WTA also agreed to a massive $120 million digital rights deal with China.

“I very much regret it has come to this point,” Simon wrote. “The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years. They should be proud of their achievements, hospitality and success.”

“However, 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.”

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