The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has announced the suspension of all tournaments in China after receiving ‘insufficient evidence’ regarding the safety of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
The whereabouts of Peng, a former doubles world No 1, became a matter of international concern almost a month ago, with Peng having disappeared after posting a statement alleging that the former Vice Premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her.
Concern for Peng’s wellbeing has seen a number of tennis players and athletes adopt the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai on Twitter to draw attention to it, including Andy Murray and Serena Williams.
The White House said it was “deeply concerned” about her welfare, while the European Union called for China to release “verifiable proof” she was safe.
In a statement, Steve Simon, Chairman and CEO of WTA, emphasised that athlete safety was of paramount concern, he added: “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.
“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.
“I very much regret it has come to this point. The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years. They should be proud of their achievements, hospitality, and success.
However, unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China. China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice. I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard, and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue.”