The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has announced the suspension of all tournaments in China amid concerns about the safety of the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. This follows weeks of a high-profile row with Beijing over the player’s wellbeing.
Peng, 35, one of China's most recognizable athletes, accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.
Attempts by China to show Peng is safe - including an email purportedly from Peng and several video clips of the athlete - have only added to the concern over her safety. The WTA stated that the recent videos “don't alleviate or address concern about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.” China’s foreign minister, Zhao Lijian, responded to increasing Western coverage by saying “I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping [the issue] up, let alone politicise this issue.”
The WTA chairman, Steve Simon, announced the decision to strip China of all WTA tournaments in a statement on Wednesday. “With the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am 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.”
The move marked a paradigm shift in how sports associations have dealt with China as the country becomes more assertive in its way of dealing with both domestic and international affairs. In the past, sports organisations have rapidly backed down from rows with Beijing for fear of losing its gigantic market. Following the WTA announcement tennis journalist, Matthew Willis, tweeted: