BEIJING: The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) on Wednesday announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of former doubles world number one Peng Shuai and the safety of other players.
The US-headquartered tour’s decision to walk away from one of its biggest markets was applauded by many leading figures in the tennis world but could cost the WTA hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.
Peng’s whereabouts became a matter of international concern following a nearly three-week public absence after she posted a message on social media in early November, alleging that China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.
Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng’s allegation and the topic has been blocked from direct discussion on China’s heavily censored internet.
“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 Chief Executive Steve 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.”
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment and calls to the organisers of the China Open tournament went unanswered.
The ministry said late last month that “certain people” should stop the “malicious hyping” and “politicisation” of the Peng issue.