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WTA Suspends Tournaments in China Due to Peng Shuai Situation, Effective Immediately

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

Women’s Tennis Association chair and chief executive Steve Simon has decided to suspend all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, effective immediately. 

"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," Simon said in a statement. "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." 

The WTA has 10 events scheduled in China for 2022, including the Finals.

Retired tennis star Peng Shuai said Nov. 2 in a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, that a former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault. This is the first public accusation of this nature against a senior Communist Party official. For over two weeks, no one reportedly had spoken with her directly as an email sent to Simon as well as photos and a video were released by state-affiliated media. 

International tennis stars, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, voiced their worries on social media, and politicians, including Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, called for President Joe Biden and members of his administration to "suspend any high-level dialogues with China until China responds satisfactorily to our inquiries about Peng Shuai’s safety." 

Simon has continued to express concern over the matter, even saying during an interview with CNN last month that he was "willing to pull our business" out of China and lose millions if Peng's allegations are not fully investigated and if she was not able to speak directly with someone from the WTA. The White House joined the call "for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe," per press secretary Jen Psaki, while the United Nations made a similar request. 

On Nov. 21, Peng told Olympic officials in a video call from Beijing that she was "safe and well." But this did not stop the growing concerns as the European Union and other governing bodies have joined the call for an investigation and proof of her safety. The call left Simon still “deeply concerned” about her whereabouts and ability to “communicate freely, openly and directly."

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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. Peng detailed in her post that Zhang "forced" raped her.

“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.

"From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved," Simon said in his statement Wednesday about Peng's post. "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."

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

"Since then, Peng’s message has been removed from the internet and discussion of this serious issue has been censored in China. Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner," Simon said. "Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation—without censorship—into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.

"None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded—equality for women—would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players."

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