The head of women’s professional tennis announced Wednesday that the organization would suspend all its competitions in China.
The Women’s Tennis Association, or WTA, said the suspension came out of concerns over the safety of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
The tennis star had accused a former member of the Communist Party's ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual wrongdoing. She made the accusation on social media on November 2. The message was quickly removed. Since then, Peng has only been seen in images of a youth tennis event and in a picture talking with the leader of the International Olympic Committee, or IOC.
The WTA’s top officials said China had not dealt with the issue in a way that could be believed. “Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” WTA Chairman and chief officer Steve Simon wrote in a statement.
Simon also expressed concerns that Peng was not free to express herself. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.”
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.”
Billie Jean King, who started the WTA, praised its decision. She said, “The WTA has chosen to be on the right side of history in defending the rights of our players. This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports,” King added.
China was supposed to hold several tennis competitions next year, including the important season-ending WTA Finals. The decision could cost the WTA millions of dollars. In addition to the WTA, China also brings billions of dollars in income to the National Basketball Association and the IOC.
China is set to hold the Winter Olympic Games beginning on February 4.
IOC President Thomas Bach said late last month that he spoke with Peng on a video call. The IOC did not release the video or report what was said at the meeting. The sports organization said in a statement that Peng appeared to be “doing fine” and that she had asked for privacy.
The IOC did not explain how the call was set up. And critics have suggested that Peng would not have called the IOC if she was truly free to speak.
The European Union said Tuesday it wants China to offer “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe. “Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom,” an EU spokesperson said.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Hai Do adapted this Associated Press report. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
coercion –n. to make (someone) do something by using force or threats
intimidation –n. to make (someone) afraid
state of affairs –n. the current state; the current situation
staff –n. a group of people who work for an organization or business
verifiable –adj. able to be shown to be true; provable
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