WTA Suspends Tournaments in China amid Ongoing Concerns About Peng Shuai's Status

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 1, 2021

SHENZHEN, CHINA - OCTOBER 27: CEO and Chairman of the WTA Steve Simon attends opening ceremony on Day one of the 2019 WTA Finals at Shenzhen Bay Sports Center on October 27, 2019 in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

The WTA is suspending the staging of tournaments in China and Hong Kong amid ongoing questions surrounding Peng Shuai's status in her native country. 

"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," WTA chairman Steve Simon said.

Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg

BREAKING: WTA announces decision to suspend its tournaments in China due to the ongoing Peng Shuai situation.<br><br>From Steve Simon: <a href="https://t.co/dKpGZYPbzh">pic.twitter.com/dKpGZYPbzh</a>

Peng alleged on Chinese social media platform Weibo she had been sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, a retired vice premier in the Chinese government.

"That afternoon, I was very afraid. I didn't expect it to be like this," she wrote of the alleged assault by Zhang. "I didn't agree to have sex with you and kept crying that afternoon."

Peng's post was removed from the site and she remained silent on the matter until Chinese state media network CGTN shared a statement it said she wrote on Nov. 17.

The message said the Weibo post was "released without my consent" and that she was "not missing, nor am I unsafe."

CGTN @CGTNOfficial

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has sent an email to Steve Simon, the WTA Chairman &amp; CEO, CGTN has learned. The email reads: <a href="https://t.co/uLi6Zd2jDI">pic.twitter.com/uLi6Zd2jDI</a>

She also had a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach to assuage any fears about her safety. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of another Chinese state media outlet, the Global Times, posted a clip purportedly showing Peng at an event in Beijing:

Hu Xijin 胡锡进 @HuXijin_GT

Peng Shuai showed up at the opening ceremony of a teenager tennis match final in Beijing on Sunday morning. Global Times photo reporter Cui Meng captured her at scene. <a href="https://t.co/7wlBcTMgGy">pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy</a>

Simon issued a statement on Nov. 20 saying he was unconvinced by the message, call and video:

"While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug."

The European Union echoed his sentiment when it called for China to provide "verifiable proof" confirming Peng's safety.

The WTA's involvement in China has been limited in recent years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The association canceled seven events on the 2020 calendar and took the same step this season.