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Winter Olympics under threat as WTA suspends Chinese tournaments over missing player

By Tobi Awodipe
03 December 2021   |   2:52 am
As fears for the safety of Chinese players, Peng Shuai continues, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has suspended all tournaments in China with immediate effect.

(FILES) This file photo taken on May 29, 2018 shows China’s Peng Shuai hitting a return against Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic during their women’s singles first-round match on day three of the Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris. – Tennis stars threw their support behind the WTA’s move to suspend its tournaments in China over concern for Peng Shuai, as calls grew on December 2, 2021, for other sports to follow suit. (Photo by Eric Feferberg / AFP)

As fears for the safety of Chinese players, Peng Shuai continues, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has suspended all tournaments in China with immediate effect.

This is coming after Shuai disappeared from the public after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault. The 35-year-old has been absent for weeks after the accusations and the WTA says it wants the incident fully investigated.

WTA boss, Steve Simon, has revealed ‘serious doubts’ over her freedom and safety, despite claims that Shuai held a video call with members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) yesterday.

Simon has now revealed fears for the safety of players and staff on suspending events in China, in a move that could have serious repercussions for next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin on February 4, and the Paralympics.

“The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation, without censorship, into Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.

“As a result, and 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.”

Simon insisted they’d not relax their stance until Chinese officials comply with a number of demands, not least concerning Peng’s safety and whereabouts.

“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when 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.

“I very much regret it has come to this point, but unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China as they have left us with no choice.”

This is the strongest public stand against China taken by a sports body and one that could cost the WTA millions of dollars. China typically hosts about 10 women’s tennis tournaments each year, including the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals, which are scheduled to be held there for a decade.

Beijing is set to host the Winter Games beginning on February 4, and IOC President, Thomas Bach, says they want to employ “quiet diplomacy”.

Meanwhile, The Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) has expressed its indignation and firm opposition to the WTA decision, saying the unilateral decision in the name of “protecting its players” was made based on fictitious information.

It noted that it not only hurt the athlete, herself but will also severely harm the women tennis players’ fair opportunities to compete.