Peng Shuai should be heard, not censored ”: WTA to China

The Women’s Tennis Association called on the Chinese government to investigate allegations of sexual assault by former high-ranking double star Peng Shuai against a former Chinese vice-premier and to “listen to and not censor” the player.

The accusations

On November 2, Shuai – winner of Wimbledon and French Open double titles and the first Chinese player to top the world rankings in 2014 – posted on social media that Zhang Gaoli had sexually abused her despite several rejections.

Zhang, 75, served on the seven-person Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Political Bureau – the nation’s highest governing body under the leadership of Leader Xi Jinping – from 2012 to 2017 and retired as deputy prime minister in 2018.

Screenshots of Peng’s post on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of the microblogging site Twitter, describe an incident three years ago when Zhang invited her to play tennis with him and his wife and then sexually assaulted them in his home. “I never consented that afternoon and cried the whole time,” the 35-year-old wrote, adding that she also had a friendly relationship with Zhang and could not provide any evidence to back up her allegations.

“I know that for someone of Your Eminence, Vice Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli, you said that you should not be afraid,” Peng wrote, “but even if it is all about me, like an egg striking a stone or a stone Moth on the flame, wooing self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you. “

Peng Shuai in action during the women’s single match at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing in 2016. (AP Photo / Andy Wong)

According to the New York Times, Peng’s position was dismissed within an hour and searches for her name and “tennis” appeared temporarily blocked.

aftermath

Peng has not been seen since the post, raising concerns about her safety in the global tennis community. The French player Alize Cornet showed her support for Peng with a tweet “Let’s not be silent” under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai. while former world number one American Chris Evert wrote: “I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is it safe? Any information would be appreciated. “

Male tennis players Liam Broady and Nicolas Mahut also raised concerns.

In an interview with NYT on Sunday, WTA chief Steve Simon said the organization “has received confirmation from multiple sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that it is safe and not exposed to physical threats,” but those who did related to the tour, including officials and players “were unable to speak to her directly until that date.”

Declaration by the WTA

The previous Sunday, Simon, the chairman and CEO of the WTA, called for an investigation into the allegations.

“Peng Shuai and all women deserve to be heard and not censored. Your allegation of sexual assault behavior by a former Chinese leader must be treated with the utmost seriousness, ”the statement said.

“Obviously, she has shown tremendous courage to go public,” Simon told the NYT. “Now we want to make sure we get to a place where a full and transparent investigation is being carried out. In my opinion, everything else is an affront not only for our players, but for all women. “

The former number 1 in the world, Martina Navratilova, praised the WTA for its “strong” and “correct posture”.

China’s importance

Simon’s comments are particularly important in the context of the WTA’s business relationship with China, the host country for several tournaments, including the Tour Finals.

In 2018, the WTA signed a record 10-year deal valued at nearly $ 1 billion, according to SportsBusiness Journal, making Shenzhen the host of the year-end flagship event with the top eight singles and doubles. The lucrative offer fended off competing cities like Manchester in England and doubled the event’s prize money to $ 14 million.

The deal was the biggest ever in women’s sports – dwarfing WTA’s own six-year, $ 88 million title sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson in 2005. At the time, Simon founded it as “the biggest and most important WTA finals deal in the 45 years since the WTA” and promises to take the event to a spectacular new level. ”The final and the 11 planned WTA tournaments in China were not held in the country due to the pandemic.

On Monday, Simon admitted that “everyone fully understands what is at stake here on many different fronts as we go through it,” but claimed that if the WTA did not see “the reasonable results” of the investigation, “we do.” ready to take this step and not do our business in China if it should come to that. “

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