Tennis stars back WTA move to suspend events in China over Peng Shuai concerns

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Tennis stars have given their support to the WTA’s decision to suspend tournaments in China over concerns over Peng Shuai, as Olympic chiefs said Thursday they held a second video call with her.

The women’s tennis tour has come to a decision on what its chairman Steve Simon has called persistent “serious doubts” about the safety of Chinese player Peng, who has accused a former Communist Party leader of sexual assault.

Simon reiterated his calls for China to conduct “a full and transparent investigation – without censorship” into Peng’s claim that former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli “forced” her to have relations sexual.

The WTA’s decision to suspend tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, has won the support of some of tennis’s biggest names, including men’s number one Novak Djokovic and women’s tour founder Billie Jean King.

The move could potentially cost the WTA hundreds of millions of dollars, as China is one of its biggest markets.

Djokovic called the WTA’s position “very bold and very courageous”, while King, 12-time Grand Slam singles winner, tweeted that the WTA was “on the right side of history”.

Great tennis player Martina Navratilova challenged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to respond, writing on Twitter that “for now I can barely hear you !!!”

China will host the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

The IOC, whose President Thomas Bach spoke with Peng for 30 minutes on November 21 during one of the first contacts a Western organization had with it, said it held a second call on Wednesday.

The call confirmed that Peng “appeared to be safe and healthy, given the difficult situation she finds herself in,” the IOC said.

Bach came under criticism after the first appeal for failing to make demands on Peng’s security and the IOC defended his approach in a statement Thursday.

“We use ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organizations, is shown to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters,” he said. declared the IOC.

But uncertainty over Peng has rekindled calls for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games over China’s human rights record.

“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 apparently been pressured to contradict his allegation of sexual assault,” Simon said.

“Serious doubts”The Chinese Tennis Association on Thursday expressed “its outrage and strong opposition” to the WTA’s announcement, state newspaper Global Times reported.

And Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the country was “strongly opposed to acts politicizing sport.”

Peng, 35, doubles champion at Wimbledon and Roland Garros, has been at the center of international concerns for a month.

She was not seen for weeks after her allegations on the Twitter-like platform Weibo that Zhang, now in her 60s, forced her to have sex during an intermittent, multi-year relationship. .

His allegations, published on November 2, were quickly wiped from the internet in China and online discussions about them remain censored. Zhang did not respond.

The Global Times on Thursday accused the WTA in an editorial published only on Twitter of “an exaggerated broadcast” and “forcing (Peng) to complain in accordance with the imagination and expectations of Western public opinion.”

Peng’s allegations against Zhang were the first time China’s #MeToo movement has reached the top echelons of the ruling Communist Party.

State media pointed to an email attributed to Peng and photos of her at a tennis event in Beijing as proof of her safety.

Simon said he still had “serious doubts that she was free, safe and free from censorship, coercion and intimidation.”

The European Union, United Nations, United States and Britain have all called for evidence of Peng’s fate and well-being.

Millions of dollarsNext year’s WTA schedule had not yet been announced, but China is unlikely to host any major international sport – other than the Olympics – anytime soon due to its strict policies in coronavirus matter.

In 2019, China hosted 10 WTA events with a total prize pool exceeding $ 30 million.

Speaking on CNN, Simon said he was unable to contact Peng directly despite several attempts.

When asked if the WTA has been contacted by corporate sponsors of the Olympics or other sports with large corporations in China, such as the NBA, Simon said: “We have not heard from them. partners involved in the Olympics and other properties involved in China.

“Our position here is very, very clear: I can only imagine the range of emotions and feelings that are probably going through Peng right now.

“We hope she thinks none of this is her fault and that we are very proud of her.”

(AFP)

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