On December 1, Wednesday, the Women's Tennis Association, the principal organizing body of women's professional tennis that also governs the WTA tour, announced its decision to suspend tournaments in China.
WTA CEO Steve Simon defended the move saying, "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."
"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," stated Simon in a statement on their website.
Two weeks ago, WTA chief Simon had reportedly threatened to pull out of China if appropriate action wasn't taken by the country leaders.
In November, the international tennis world was shaken by a very public note posted by Peng Shuai, top Chinese sportswoman and former doubles world no. 1 accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former high-ranking Chinese government official, of sexual assault. Right after the post went viral and was eventually erased from her account, concerns were raised by fellow tennis stars and the tennis associations about Peng Shuai's sudden disappearance from the public limelight.
Peng Shuai's social media post on Weibo, removed within 20 minutes, had stated, "Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you." The lengthy message reiterated that Zhang had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals.
In the WTA statement, Simon has clarified that China was given several opportunities to clear the air on the matter, cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner.
However, according to Simon, unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way.
"None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. 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," Simon stated.