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Head of WTA Willing to Pull From China If Peng Shuai Not Heard From Directly

Sep 5, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Peng Shuai (CHN) returns a shot to Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) on day twelve of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chair and chief executive Steve Simon told CNN on Thursday that he is "willing to pull our business" out of China and lose millions if Peng Shuai's allegations are not fully investigated and she is not spoken with directly. 

The organization is willing to "deal with all the complications that come with it," Simon said, "because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business." 

The WTA has 10 events scheduled in China for 2022, including the Finals. The country is scheduled to host that specific event through 2028.

"We're at a crossroads with our relationship obviously with China and operating our business over there," Simon said. "There's no question about it... We've had a lot of success over there. I think that when you look at this though, there's too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this that we let business, politics, money dictate what's right and what's wrong. 

"When we have a young person who has the fortitude to step up and make these allegations, knowing full well what the results of that are going to be, for us to not support that and demand justice as we go through it, we have to start as a world making decisions that are based upon right and wrong. Period." 

The recently retired tennis star accused a former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault. 

This is reportedly the first public accusation of this nature against a prominent Chinese government official, and since Shuai’s Nov. 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, the WTA veteran has reportedly not been heard from directly.

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Simon added that he is still "struggling" with the email a Chinese state-affiliated media outlet released on Wednesday purportedly from missing tennis star Shuai sent to Simon. 

The email said, in part, "Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent. The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true." 

"For a person to come forth with the type of allegations and the detail into those allegations that she set forth in her Nov. 2 post, those are significant," Simon said Thursday. "For us to see an email that basically denied that happened and said it didn't and that all is great, I'm just struggling to agree to that and don't believe that's the truth at all." 

Simon said the WTA has tried many different ways to contact her, but "to date, we still have not been able to get a response." He added that he immediately responded to the email from Wednesday, but as of the Thursday evening interview, he had not received a response. 

From 2012 to '17, Zhang Gaoli served on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the "top ruling body" of the country, per The New York Times. Shuai detailed in her post that the former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party allegedly "forced" her to have sex with him.

“Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?” she wrote, per CNN.

The post, which also described an on-and-off consensual relationship with Gaoli, was removed within minutes, according to The Times, and searches of Shuai's name and "tennis" reportedly "appeared to be blocked." 

And as CNN's Erin Burnett said during her broadcast, China put the interview segment with Simon "to black while we spoke."  

Concern for Shuai's safety has continued to grow across the globe as international tennis stars, like Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, voice their worries on social media and politicians, like Rep. Jim Banks, call for President Joe Biden and members of his administration to "suspend any high-level dialogues with China until China respond satisfactorily to our inquiries about Peng Shuai’s safety."