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WTA Suspends Tournaments in China Over Peng Shuai Controversy

FILE - Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai reacts during a tennis match in Beijing, China, Oct. 6, 2009.
FILE - Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai reacts during a tennis match in Beijing, China, Oct. 6, 2009.

The Women’s Tennis Association on Wednesday announced “the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong” over the controversy involving Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star who said she was sexually assaulted by a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official.

“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,” Steve Simon, WTA chairman and CEO, 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,” he said.

He added that he regretted the situation had come to this point.

Peng disappeared from public view after her November 2 accusation against Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese vice premier. She subsequently appeared late last month at a tennis event and gave a video interview with Thomas Bach, president of the IOC. During the video call, she said she was safe.

Despite this, the WTA said at the time it was still concerned about the three-time Olympian and former Wimbledon champion.

Peng’s disappearance and accusation against the former Chinese official is occurring as Beijing is to host the Winter Olympics starting February 4 amid international condemnation of China’s human rights record.

Late last month, China’s Foreign Ministry warned against politicizing and speculating about the star’s well-being. Discussion of the controversy has been highly censored in China.

Top tennis players such as Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Billie Jean King and Novak Djokovic have voiced support for Peng.