The Women’s Tennis Association will not hold any matches in China, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said on Wednesday. In the statement, Simon accused China of responding to allegations of sexual assault of Peng Shuai by a government official with “censorship, coercion and intimidation”.
“When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai published an allegation of sexual assault against a senior Chinese government official, the Women’s Tennis Association recognized that Peng Shuai’s message should be listened to and taken seriously,” Simon said. “WTA players, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less.”
Simon wrote that his post was later “removed from the internet” and the topic was “censored in China”. The association implored the Chinese authorities to stop the censorship, prove that Peng is “free and able to speak” and carry out a legitimate investigation into his allegations.
“Unfortunately, the Chinese leadership has not credibly addressed this very serious issue,” Simon said.
After going public with his allegations last month, Peng seemed to disappear.and expressed concern for the well-being of the tennis star. Then, a few weeks later, Peng in a video and several photos published by local Chinese media. However, questions were raised by the WTA as to whether the sightings were credible, according to The Associated Press. In his statement Wednesday, Simon reiterated the WTA’s suspicions.
“Although we now know Peng’s whereabouts, I have serious doubts about his freedom, safety and freedom from censorship, coercion and intimidation,” he said. “The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we reiterate our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegation.”
The suspension, which has “the full support of the WTA Board”, includes Hong Kong and is effective immediately, Simon said.
“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 apparently been pressured to contradict her sexual assault allegations,” says the press release. “Given the current situation, I am also very concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff may face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”
In the statement, Simon said he regretted the association had to make this decision, but Chinese officials “left the WTA no other choice.”
“I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard and that the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue,” he said.
Peng is a three-time Olympian and former Wimbledon champion.