WTA chairman and chief executive Steve Simon has taken a strong stance against the tour’s biggest market since former world doubles No 1 Peng made an allegation of sexual assault against a senior Chinese official on social media last month that was swiftly removed.
The WTA has been unable to gain proof that Peng is free of censorship and coercion, while Simon’s call for the 35-year-old’s claim to be fully investigated appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
Simon said in a statement on Wednesday: “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.
“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.”
Concerns for the welfare of Peng have prompted a rare show of unity in tennis, but so far that does not look set to extend to a sport-wide boycott of China.
ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said: “The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport. The response to those concerns has so far fallen short.
“We again urge for a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation.
“We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact.
“We will continue to consult with our members and monitor any developments as this issue evolves.”
The International Tennis Federation, which runs events at the lower tiers of the sport, also made no mention of pulling out of the country in its statement, saying: “The International Tennis Federation, as the governing body of tennis, stands in support of all women’s rights.
“Our primary concern remains Peng Shuai’s wellbeing. The allegations Peng made must be addressed. We will continue to support all efforts being made to that end, both publicly and behind the scenes.”
Tournaments have not been played in China for two years because of the pandemic, and there are none scheduled for the first part of 2022, meaning the governing bodies can afford to take a wait-and-see approach for now.
There is more urgency for the International Olympic Committee with the Winter Olympics in Beijing only two months away and talk of a boycott growing.
The IOC revealed on Thursday that it had held a second video call with Peng, and it put out a much stronger statement than the one last month that was widely derided, while again stressing its belief in diplomacy.
The organisation said in a statement: “We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the wellbeing and safety of Peng Shuai.
“This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her. We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.
“There are different ways to achieve her wellbeing and safety. We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations.
“We are using ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.
“The IOC’s efforts led to a half-hour video conference with Peng Shuai on 21 November, during which she explained her situation and appeared to be safe and well, given the difficult situation she is in.
“This was reconfirmed in yesterday’s call. Our human and person-centred approach means that we continue to be concerned about her personal situation and will continue to support her.”
Novak Djokovic backed the suspension, saying: “I support fully WTA’s stance because we don’t have enough information about Peng Shuai and her wellbeing, and her health is of the utmost importance for the tennis community.
“We don’t have enough information, and I think it’s a very bold, very courageous stance from WTA.”
Human rights charity Amnesty International also offered its support and urged the international community to keep up the pressure on China.
Doriane Lau, Amnesty’s China researcher, said: “The WTA’s decision to suspend tournaments in China after insufficient answers on the freedom of movement, wellbeing, and safety of tennis player Peng Shuai shows that they are taking their due diligence responsibilities seriously.
“The move, along with messages of support from some of the tennis world’s biggest stars, have also sent authorities in China a much-needed message that their attempts to sweep these allegations under the rug will not go unchallenged.
“The international community should continue to urge the Chinese government to investigate all allegations of sexual violence promptly and effectively.
“They should also ask the Chinese government to ensure that the survivors have a platform to express themselves freely and without any adverse consequences.”
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