The Women’s Tennis Association announced on Wednesday it will suspend all of its tournaments in China, citing a lack of confirmation regarding the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared last month after claiming a former high-level Chinese Communist Party official sexually assaulted her.
Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the WTA, wrote in a statement that he made this decision because he could not bring himself to ask WTA athletes to compete in China when Peng is not allowed to speak freely. He added that he is concerned about the risks players and staff could face if the WTA continued to hold events in the country, including in Hong Kong, next year.
"None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable," Simon wrote. "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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Simon applauded Peng's "strength and courage" for speaking out when it comes to sexual assault, "especially when powerful people are involved." He said the WTA will do everything possible to protect its players and hopes leaders around the world will continue to speak out so Peng can have justice.
The WTA's announcement of suspending its tournaments in China comes the same day a member of the International Olympic Committee, Dick Pound, said people who spoke to Peng have reached the "unanimous conclusion" that she is "fine." However, Pound also said he was not a part of the call that proved Peng is safe.
The European Union asked on Tuesday for “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe. Specifically, the EU asked China to provide "assurances that she is free and not under threat.”
Simon threatened to pull out of China over Peng's disappearance on Nov. 19, saying business interests should not get in the way of doing "what's right." Peng apparently reappeared in footage at a youth tournament in Beijing on Nov. 21, but Simon was unconvinced of her safety, calling the footage "insufficient."
Peng, a three-time Olympian and former top-ranked doubles player, disappeared on Nov. 3 after she made a post on social media accusing former Chinese Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. The post was deleted about a half-hour after it was posted.
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A bipartisan group of political leaders has called for the relocation of the 2022 Olympics, which are set to be held in Beijing, citing the country's human rights abuses. President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are among those expressing support for some form of a boycott of the games.