WTA Chief Willing to Pull Out of China Over Peng Shuai’s Safety

By Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly
November 19, 2021 Updated: November 23, 2021

Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is willing to pull its business from China and deal with “all complications that come with it” to ensure the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, chief executive of WTA Steve Simon said in an interview with CNN on Nov. 19.

Peng, one of China’s most prominent sports stars, has disappeared from the public eye since she accused former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into having sex at his home.

She made the allegation in a lengthy social media post dated Nov. 2 that was deleted half an hour later. Chinese censors were said to have acted quickly to block any mention of the subject from the internet, and Beijing has yet to respond to Peng’s initial allegation. (screenshot of her post)

“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it. Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business,” Simon said, stressing that “women need to be respected and not censored.”

The 35-year-old Peng, who once ranked first in women’s doubles, won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

Zhang, who is 75, dropped from public view after his retirement in 2018, as is usual for former Party senior officials. He is not known to have any close connections to current leaders. (Associated Press)

Despite assurances from the Chinese Tennis Association that Peng was safe in Beijing, Simon said that attempts to contact her were unsuccessful.

Earlier this week, Chinese state media outlet CGTN tweeted a screenshot of an email purportedly from Peng sent to WTA, in which she appears to deny her previous allegations and that she is not missing.

“I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine,” the email reads.

The email, however, seemed to only amplify concerns about Peng’s safety and whereabouts, with many having doubts about the email’s authenticity.

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” Simon said in a statement on Nov. 18.

The email, he added, “only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” and that “verifiable proof” is needed to ensure that Peng is safe.

Simon went on to call for Peng to be allowed “to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, on the other hand, said he was unaware of Peng’s case when questioned by reporters. (Associated Press)

The Associated Press contributed to this article.