“Women must be respected and not censored”
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The Women’s Tennis Association is ready to pull its tournaments in China if there is no adequate response to Peng Shuai’s accusation of being sexually assaulted by former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, Steve Simon told American media, CEO of WTA.
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Peng Shuai, 35, is former doubles world No.1 hasn’t been seen in public since posting a Weibo post where Peng accused the former high-ranking official, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault after inviting her to his home to play tennis with him and his wife. In the past, according to Peng’s post, the two have also been in a relationship. A couple of hours later, the post was removed, but not before someone took a screenshot of it.
Peng, in her post, had stated that she could not offer evidence of her allegations of her, but that she was equally determined to talk about her. Neither Zhang nor the Chinese Communist Party commented on the incident, and discussions on the subject were, as usual, censored.
Zhang Gaoli, 75, served on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the country’s supreme leadership body, from 2012 to 2017 during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s first term in power. You retired from the post of Deputy Prime Minister in 2018.
Peng’s explosive accusation prompted Chinese censors to respond at an unprecedented level to contain this version of #MeToo. Her Weibo account, which has more than half a million followers, is still blocked by researchers on the platform.
In the meantime, however, the global tennis community has begun to question the former champion’s real health conditions, and the WTA has requested an investigation. The top tennis world champions have started circulating the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai on Western social media.
On November 17, Chinese state media released an email, allegedly sent to WTA’s Simon by Peng, retracting her allegations and saying she is fine. Simon questioned the veracity of the email, describing it as a “false statement of some kind”. He asked China to provide “independent and verifiable evidence” that Peng is safe.
Some of the biggest names in the sport like Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert have asked China to confirm her safety and investigate her allegations.
Simon told the media on Tuesday that there are 10 events in preparation in China worth millions of dollars that could be skipped.
“We are at a crossroads with our relationship with China and our business over there,” Simon told CNN in an interview.
“We are definitely willing to retire our business and deal with all the complications that come with it because this issue is certainly, it’s bigger than the business.”
In the last decade, tennis has grown tremendously in popularity in China, and in 2019 alone, the year before the pandemic, China hosted nine WTA tournaments, with a combined prize pool of over $ 30 million.
At the same time, however, Xi Jinping’s seizure of power affected a series of humanitarian and social issues that prompted some of the public to call for a boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.