Peng Shuai: Why has WTA suspended China tennis tournaments over missing Chinese player - and what happened?

Concerns for Chinese tennis player sees WTA suspend all tournaments in East Asian state.

<p>Shuai Peng and Shuai Zhang of China during their Women’s Doubles at the 2020 Australian Open</p>

Shuai Peng and Shuai Zhang of China during their Women’s Doubles at the 2020 Australian Open

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has suspended all tournaments in China amid concerns for Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.

Peng disappeared from public view for three weeks after accusing a top Chinese government official of sexual assault.

The 35-year old claimed she was "safe and well" during a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach last month.

However, WTA chairman & CEO Steve Simon released a statement saying he has “serious doubts” that Peng is “free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.”

Who is Peng Shuai?

Peng Shuai in action at the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne

Peng Shuai is a professional tennis player of 20 years from Xiangtan, Hunan in China.

In 2014, Peng was ranked world number one doubles player by the Women’s Tennis Association, becoming the first Chinese tennis player to achieve that ranking in either singles or doubles.

She has won two singles and 22 doubles titles, including Wimbledon and the French Open, as well as a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games.

In singles, Peng’s best Grand Slam result came in 2014 when she reached the semi-finals of the US Open.

Why has Women’s Tennis Association have suspended all tournaments in China?

Women’s Tennis Association chairman and CEO Steve Simon released an official statement yesterday (Wednesday, December 1).

He addressed Peng’s allegations of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, cast doubt on whether she was indeed “safe and well” and criticised the Chinese government for censoring discussions on a serious issue.

The statement, which can be read in full on the WTA’s official website, said: “When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted an allegation of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, the Women’s Tennis Association recognized that Peng Shuai’s message had to be listened to and taken seriously. The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less.

“From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved.”

It went on to say: “Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.

“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.

As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. 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.”

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