The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) opposition to the disappearance of Chinese authoritarian tennis player Peng Shuai could lead to the cancellation of events after 2022.
Steve Simon, President and CEO, said: Said in a video call with the WTA Associated Press..
The Women’s Professional Tennis Tour has announced that it will suspend all tournaments in mainland China and Hong Kong due to concerns about the treatment of Beijing’s tennis star Peng Shuai. Last month, China’s Grand Slam Doubles Champion disappeared for about 20 days after accusing former government officials of sexual assault in a rapidly deleted social media post.
“Chinese leadership has not addressed this very serious problem in a credible way …. None of this is acceptable and cannot be accepted,” Simon said in a statement on December 1. Asked for a complete and transparent investigation.
The chairman had previously warned that the WTA event would be withdrawn from China unless Peng’s safety was guaranteed.
China is a billion-dollar source of income for various sports organizations based elsewhere, such as the WTA, NBA, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Approximately 10 women’s tennis tournaments are held each year, including the famous end-of-season WTA Finals, which was normally scheduled to be held in Shenzhen until 2028.
2019 WTA FinalsThe Women’s Tennis Tournament, considered a jewel event in the crown of the tour, offered the largest prize check in the history of the world of men’s or women’s professional tennis. The total prize pool reached $ 14 million, double the previous $ 7 million prize pool for the event. according to Organization.
“We haven’t canceled at this point, but we’re ready to reach that point,” Simon said in a video call on December 1. “And that will be the point of discussion at some point: where are you going to cancel? Only in 2022? For the future? So these are all future questions.”
The move to stop playing tours in China could cost the WTA millions of dollars, but with the support of the board, players, tournaments and sponsors.
“This is a systematic effort that is actually working on something about what is right and what is wrong,” said Simon, who regrets the announcement, that Beijing has left the WTA with no choice. Told.
Despite the recent appearance of Peng in the state media, the chairman believed that tennis stars still couldn’t speak freely. “Given the current situation, we are also very concerned about the risks that players and all staff may face if we hold an event in China in 2022,” he said.
“So far, we haven’t been able to have that conversation yet to get the peace of mind that what we’re looking at hasn’t been adjusted. The second factor is censorship. Even without a level, we need a complete and transparent investigation of allegations made, “Simon told AP.
Mr Simon said the tournament could still be staged in China if the government responded to his request. Otherwise, the event may be transferred to another country, as happened with COVID-19 concerns this year. For example, WTA Finals was moved to Guadalajara, Mexico last month.
“Right side of history”
Many US lawmakers and organizations have supported the WTA to tackle human values as well as tennis.
The United States Tennis Association praised Simon and WTA and made the following statement on Twitter: “This kind of leadership is courageous, it is necessary to protect the rights of all individuals and to be able to hear all voices.”
Heather Bowler, a spokeswoman for the International Tennis Federation, said the board will meet the next day to discuss the issue.
Billie Jean King, the founder of the WTA, said the organization is “on the right side of history.”
“We commend Steve Simon and WTA leaders for their strong position in advocating for human rights in China and around the world,” said King, a 12-time Grand Slam winner and women’s tennis pioneer. Says.
“This is another reason why women’s tennis is a leader in women’s sports,” she said.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a New York-based nonprofit organization, praised the WTA’s “Spine Show” and compared it to the IOC.[played] Together … Beijing. “
Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) And Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) I called on the IOC to follow suit. “Get rid of the 2022 Olympics from Communist China right now,” Scott said. I wrote on Twitter..
The IOC said in a statement on December 2 that it had made a second video call with three Olympic athletes, Peng, guaranteeing “wide support,” regular contact and a personal meeting in January. rice field.
The group described its efforts to support Peng as a “quiet diplomacy” campaign.
The committee said in a statement after a previous call with Peng on 21 November that Peng appears to be “doing well” without publishing videos or transcripts. IOC President Thomas Bach and IOC members from China attended the talk, but the group did not explain how to arrange a phone call.
Neither statement made a direct reference to her allegations of sexual assault.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not comment on the WTA’s move at a regular briefing on December 2, but said China was “opposed to the politicization of sports.”
Beijing will host the Winter Olympics from February 4th.
“From the disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai to driving Muslim Uighurs into slave labor, the Chinese Communist Party does not respect humanity,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Said in her Twitter post..
The whereabouts of 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli, who allegedly forced Peng to have a sexual relationship, have not been reported or publicly investigated so far. The former Vice President of China resigned from the Politburo Standing Committee, which consists of powerful seven members, about three years ago and did not speak publicly about the case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.