The sexual assault scandal involving a former world doubles number one tennis player, has led to WTA’s decision to suspend tournaments taking place in Hong Kong and mainland China. After Peng Shuai’s allegations were directed towards China vice-premier Zhang Gaoli and his involvement in the scandal, her disappearance caused widespread concerns over her safety. The CEO of WTA, Steve Simon, stated China did not ‘[address] this very serious issue in any credible way,’ expressing ‘serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.’ He added his hope the suspension of tournaments would not be influenced by money or politics.
WTA is concerned with authorial oppression and safe spaces for women tennis players. Simon said he would not allow ‘powerful people [to] suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug,’ because that would cause a setback on what the ‘WTA was founded – equality for women.’
The allegations come after Peng attended the opening ceremony of a Beijing tennis match on November 21st. Media evidence from the editor of Global Times, Hu Xijin, appeared to show 35 year old eating dinner with her coach and friends. However, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office claimed this was not verifiable evidence, and was still ‘extremely concerned’ about Peng. The International Olympic Committee will video call Peng on the 8th of December and meet her in person in January to follow up the case.
Former Conservative Party leader, Sir Iain Ducan Smith, suggested the UK ought to boycott the Winter Olympics in order to show how China’s human rights abuses are unacceptable. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, responded by considering a diplomatic boycott next year.
Fellow tennis players including Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Novak Djokovic, spoke up for Peng. Federer ‘[hopes] she is safe’, and believes the ‘tennis family sticks together,’ while Djokovic believes the ‘community needs to back her up and her family.’