WTA threatens to pull events out of China over Peng

Published November 20, 2021
A file photo of China’s Peng Shuai serving during a match at the Australian Open on January 15, 2019. — Reuters/File
A file photo of China’s Peng Shuai serving during a match at the Australian Open on January 15, 2019. — Reuters/File

BEIJING: An outcry over the whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai escalated on Friday as the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it was prepared to pull its tournaments out of China over the issue, prompting an influential Chinese state media editor to criticise the organisation for using a “coercive tone”.

Former doubles world number one Peng has not been seen or heard from publicly since she said on Chinese social media on Nov 2 that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.

Neither Zhang or the Chinese government have commented on her allegation. Peng’s social media post was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China’s heavily censored internet.

Concern among the global tennis community and beyond has grown over Peng’s safety and whereabouts since her allegation, with the WTA calling for an investigation. Some of the world’s top tennis players, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, as well as the German Olympic Committee, have tweeted.

The issue has also emerged as China prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February amid calls from global rights groups and others for a boycott over its human rights record. The International Olympic Committee has declined to comment on Peng’s matter, saying it believed “quiet diplomacy” offered the best opportunity for a solution.

WTA chief executive Steve Simon told CNN and other US media outlets on Thursday the tour would consider pulling tournaments worth tens of millions of dollars out of China.

In a statement to Reuters on Friday, Simon said the WTA was “at a crossroads” with China.

“We continue to call for independent and verifiable proof that Peng Shuai is safe and that her sexual assault allegation will be investigated fully, fairly and without censorship. If not, the WTA is prepared to do what is right,” he said.

Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, responded to Simon’s comments to CNN on Friday on Twitter, saying “don’t use a coercive tone” when expressing any concern to China.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2021

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