Following a long high-profile row with Beijing over Peng’s wellbeing, WTA chairman Steve Simon made the announcement in a statement distributed by the tour. It comes after the Grand Slam winner dropped out of public view following allegations made against former vice-president Zhang Gaoli in a social media post, which was subsequently taken down minutes after being posted. In his statement, Simon said: “if we walk away from what we have requested, what we are telling the world is that not addressing sexual assault with the respect and seriousness that it requires is ok, and it is just not.”
The aforementioned request included a full and transparent investigation into Peng’s claims, and for evidence to be provided that showed no harm had come to her well-being. His statement continued: “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”. The chairman has the full support of the WTA Board of Directors in his decision.
China typically hosts around 10 women’s tennis tournaments each year, including the prestigious WTA Finals which had been scheduled to be held there for the next decade. The country is a source of vast quantities of income for various sports entities around the world, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Switzerland. Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympics beginning on the 4th February 2022, with the president of the committee claiming he had spoken with Peng in a video call last month. The IOC has not released a video or transcript of the conversation, saying only that Bach reported that Peng was well. In a statement, they said she appeared to be “doing fine” and that she had requested privacy. No information as to how the call was arranged has been released. Critics have suggested that Peng would not have been present in the IOC call if she was truly free to speak.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has said in a statement that it stands in support of all women’s rights. However, the governing board of men’s tennis, The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), has been criticised for not following in the same direction as the WTA.
Eighteen-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova was among the tennis players who have criticised this response, tweeting that she didn’t believe the same statement would have been released had Peng been male. Britain’s Liam Brody was also among the critics, saying that the response was full of fluff and “absolutely embarrassing”.