The Women Tennis Association (WTA) announced this Wednesday afternoon, December 1, that it has cancelled all its tennis tournaments in China in response to the plight of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who they say is not certain if she is being held against her will after alleging sexual abuse by a former high-ranking official of the Chinese Communist regime.
“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,” said the WTA chairman, Steve Simon, announcing the decision in a statement on Wednesday.
“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.”
In early November, the tennis player considered the best doubles player in tennis made a post on a Chinese social network alleging that China’s former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, sexually abused her on more than one occasion.
The post was only online for 20 minutes but it was enough for other users to spread the news outside China. In just a few hours the news accumulated more than 32 million views.
Due to the player’s high profile, the case gained international attention and the WTA, U.S. congressmen and European bloc leaders began a campaign to pressure Beijing to prove that Peng Shuai was safe and sound.
The CCP state media began publishing emails, photos and videos of the tennis player looking happy and accompanied by her family.
In one email to the WTA, Peng Shuai not only claimed that she was fine but also denied that the allegations she made about the sexual abuse she suffered were true: “The allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe,” she wrote.
However, Steve Simon, president of the WTA, considered that both the email and the photos and videos were made under the influence of the communist authorities and could not be considered as evidence of the tennis player’s well-being.
Days later, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, spontaneously organized a video call with the tennis player that was published by the media worldwide, where she affirmed that she was fine.
Once, however, criticism rained down on Bach because he did not ask any compromising questions and only Chinese state media were present on the call.
Despite all the Chinese regime’s attempts to convince the world that Peng Shuai was fine, the WTA repeatedly threatened that it would only accept communication directly with the tennis player otherwise it would suspend all its tournaments in China, a decision certainly weighty for the WTA given how lucrative such events are, as in 2019 alone the tournaments left more than $30 million in profits, according to The Guardian.
However, unlike the International Olympic Committee, which has decided to hold the Olympics in Beijing ruling out the possibility of complaining to the Chinese communist regime about any human rights issues, Steve Simon and the WTA will perhaps be remembered in history for having placed their conscience over profits, a gesture rarely seen in the business world.