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WTA suspends tournaments in China over Peng Shuai concern

(Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)

WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon announced on Wednesday that the WTA has decided to suspend all tournaments in China over concerns about the safety of Chinese player Peng Shuai.

It’s the strongest public stand a sports body has taken against China.

The Grand Slam doubles champion, who accused a former government official of sexual assault, disappeared from the public eye following a Nov. 2 post to social media. She has since been seen attending a youth tennis event and spoke with IOC officials.

But the appearances have not convinced other public entities that Peng is safe. On Tuesday, the European Union requested “verifiable proof” that the 35-year-old is safe.

“Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom,” an EU spokesperson said.

The WTA has taken a continuously hard stance, making repeated calls for a “full and transparent investigation — without censorship” into Peng’s accusations.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” Simon wrote in a statement. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.”

According to Simon, the move to halt tour play in China comes “with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors.”

“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. “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.”

Next year, China is supposed to host several of the WTA’s tournaments, including the season-ending WTA Finals — scheduled to be held there until 2030.

Tennis icon Billie Jean King threw her support behind the measure, writing that she applauds Simon and WTA leadership for “taking a strong stand on defending human rights in China & around the world.”

“The WTA is on the right side of history in supporting our players.”