WTA ready to scrap China events as Serena Williams demands Peng Shuai investigation

Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

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The Women’s Tennis Association are set to abandon their tournaments in China amid concerns over the safety of missing tennis star Peng Shuai. Peng, the former doubles world number one, has not been seen in public since she accused the former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. 

On November 2, Peng revealed the accusation in a lengthy Weibo post that was deleted just half an hour later, claiming the official forced her into sex after inviting her to his house to play tennis with him and his wife three years ago.

Peng said she and Zhang had had an on-off consensual relationship in the past. The 35-year-old declared she had no evidence to support her allegations but chose to speak out.

The Chinese government are yet to comment on Peng’s allegation – and discussion of the topic has been blocked on China’s heavily censored internet.

Chief executive Steve Simon stated that unless he is assured of Peng’s safety and is able to speak to her directly, the WTA will likely pull out of China. 

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“We are at a crossroads with our relationship with China and operating our business over there,” Simon told CNN in an interview.

“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business.

“Women need to be respected and not censored.”

Simon has said the WTA hasn’t been able to speak to Peng and he was very concerned for her safety.

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Chinese state media sent Simon an email from Peng saying everything was fine. 

He said the claim – which was accompanied by a screenshot of text – raised his concerns as he doubts it came from Peng herself.

The threat of pulling out of China would be a blow to the WTA given their efforts to expand into the country over the last few seasons.

The tennis community and beyond are becoming increasingly worried about Peng, with the WTA calling for an investigation into her disappearance and wellbeing.

Many of the world’s top players tweeted #WhereIsPengShuai to raise awareness, with Serena Williams taking to social media to voice her concerns, tweeting: “This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.”

Three-time grand slam winner and British tennis icon Andy Murray also added his voice to the #WhereIsPengShuai campaign on Twitter on Friday.

The ATP Tour similarly released their own statement on Friday afternoon regarding the situation.

“Developments in recent days in the case of Peng Shuai are deeply unsettling,” said ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.

“This issue is bigger than tennis, as shown by the outpouring of concern within and beyond our sport.

“Her safety is our most immediate concern and clarity is required on the situation. The need for verifiable direct communication with her is vital.”

The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) said in a statement that players must be prepared to take action if Peng’s safety cannot be confirmed.

“The PTPA is advocating for independent evidence confirming the safety and location of WTA player, Peng Shuai,” the PTPA statement read. 

“We must unite and be willing to take action unless corroborated evidence is provided to the world about Peng’s wellbeing.”

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