The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, after former doubles No. 1 player and three-time Olympian Peng Shuai accused a high-ranking official of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault.
Since then, the knowledge of Shuai’s whereabouts have been sporadic, and her virtual meeting with the International Olympic Committee last week did little to assure the WTA and the international community of her safety.
“The (WTA) recognized 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,” WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement announcing the decision, which he said carried the full support of the WTA board of directors.
“I very much regret it has come to this point. 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.”
On Nov. 2, Shuai made a since-deleted post that alleged a former member of the ruling party’s Standing Committee Zhang Gaoli, who helped secure the upcoming Winter Olympics for Beijing 2022 and assisted in organizing the Games, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals.
The WTA immediately voiced its concern and said her message through state-run media saying that she was OK, despite nearly two weeks of silence, was not sufficient proof of her safety. Meanwhile, the IOC stepped aside and gave its approval of the Chinese government’s actions.
“Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved,” Simon said. “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.”
Simon said he has been “gratified” by the international support behind pulling out of China and encouraged women “throughout the world” to speak out against abuse.
“It is more urgent than ever,” the statement read.
“The WTA will do everything possible to protect its players. As we do so, I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.