'This is weak': ATP under fire over 'gutless' stance on China

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ATP boss Andrea Gaudenzi, pictured here in 2020.
ATP boss Andrea Gaudenzi has copped criticism over his stance on China and Peng Shuai. Image: Getty

The governing body for the men's professional tennis tour (the ATP) is copping heavy criticism after failing to follow the WTA's lead in suspending all events in China.

The Women's Tennis Association made the bombshell move this week to suspend its tournaments in China over the country's handling of sexual assault allegations made by former doubles World No.1 Peng Shuai.

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Peng disappeared from public view for about three weeks after claiming former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had coerced her into sex.

While she has since reappeared in Beijing, there are international concerns that she is being censored and that her allegations are not being investigated properly.

"While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation," WTA chief executive Steve Simon said after announcing the women's tour was withdrawing from China.

In the wake of the WTA's strong stance, the ATP and International Tennis Federation (ITF) have been called upon to follow suit.

However the ATP caused uproar on Friday when it failed to do so, with current and former players hitting out at the governing body for the men's tour.

In a statement, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said: "The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport. The response to those concerns has so far fallen short. 

"We again urge for a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation.

"We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact."

WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon, pictured here speaking to the media in 2018.
WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon speaks to the media in 2018. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The decision from the ATP not to suspend its events in China has gone down like a lead balloon.

"Are we to understand that the ATP would have made the same statement had the player been a male?" asked women's legend Martina Navratilova. 

"An atp tour pro?!? Somehow I think not #embarassing".

American player Tennys Sandgren called for the ATP to “back the ladies up”, posting on Twitter: “This is p*ss #firegaudenzi.”

Noah Rubin said the statement was “weak”, while Reilly Opelka sarcastically called it “POWERFUL”.

Andy Roddick described it as: "How to say a lot of words and say nothing".

China blasts WTA over suspension of events

Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee, told the UK Telegraph: “This looks to the outside world like the ATP and ITF are gutless.

“This is a crucial moment for the sport, whether or not the dollar sign is more important than solidarity and integrity in the game. 

"I hope that leading tennis players around the world will put pressure on the ATP and ITF to follow the example of the WTA.”

China has since lashed out at the WTA, declaring they were "opening a pandora's box."

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly mention the WTA on Thursday but pointedly said that China "opposes the politicisation of sports".

In an editorial, the Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily, said the WTA was betraying the Olympic spirit and bringing politics into tennis.

“The WTA has put on an exaggerated show. Their pursuit of 'political correctness' is surely top-notch even among Western politicians," the editorial said.

“It is the WTA which claimed Peng’s assurance that 'everything is fine' is not credible, and it has been pushing accusations over and over again that she was acting. The WTA’s actions are seriously coercing Peng.

“Such coercion has deprived Peng of freedom of expression, forcing her to complain in accordance with the imagination and expectations of Western public opinion, fabricating that she has lost her freedom.

“The WTA is expanding its influence in a speculative way. They are bringing politics into women’s tennis deeply, and are setting a bad example for the entire sporting world."

The WTA holds 10-plus events in China each year, including the season-ending WTA Finals which reportedly costs around $1.4 billion.

with agencies

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