WTA suspends all tournaments in China amid Peng Shuai situation

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WTA boss Steve Simon, pictured here talking to the media.
WTA boss Steve Simon has suspended all events in China over the Peng Shuai situation. Image: Getty

The Women's Tennis Association has made the bombshell decision to suspend all tournaments in China due to the Peng Shuai situation.

The former doubles World No.1 has been the subject of international concern after she posted a message on social media last month alleging that China's former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.

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The former Wimbledon and French Open champion subsequently dropped out of public view for around three weeks before reappearing in Beijing.

She has only has had a few direct contacts with officials outside China since and told Olympic officials in a November 21 video call from Beijing that she was safe and well.

However the WTA said the video call didn't do enough to verify Peng's safety and the IOC has since been accused of being complicit in the scandal because the Winter Olympics are being held in Beijing in February.

WTA boss Steve Simon had previously threatened to withdraw the tour from China if he wasn't shown verifiable proof of Peng's safety, and he followed through on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” Simon wrote in a statement distributed by the tour.

“While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.

Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli, pictured here in China.
Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. (Photo by PAUL CROCK, ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Images)

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

“None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback.

"I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players."

China brings in an estimated $US1 billion ($A1.4 billion) in funding for the season-ending WTA Finals, plus 10-plus other tournaments the Asian powerhouse hosts each year.

"This is bigger than the business. Women need to be respected and not censored," Simon said last month.

IOC under fire over Peng Shuai video call

Asked about the call with the IOC, a spokeswoman for the WTA said: "This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."

The IOC said in a statement that Peng held a 30-minute call with its president Thomas Bach and thanked the Olympic organisation for its concern.

"She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time," the IOC's statement said.

"That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much."

But according to human rights organisation the Sport & Rights Alliance, the IOC has acted irresponsibly in regard to Peng.

Peng Shuai, pictured here in action at the US Open in 2014.
Peng Shuai in action at the US Open in 2014. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

"The behaviour of the IOC in relation to Peng Shuai's sexual assault allegations and disappearance has been irresponsible and shows just how hollow its understanding of human rights really is," Andrea Florence, acting director of the Sport & Rights Alliance, said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The IOC's eagerness to ignore the voice of an Olympian who may be in danger and to support claims of state-sponsored media in China shows the urgent and critical need for an IOC human rights strategy."

The concern over Peng comes as global rights groups and others have called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing over China's human rights record.

On November 2, Peng posted on Chinese social media that former vice-premier Zhang had coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.

The post was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China's heavily censored internet.

Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng's allegations.

The United States and Britain subsequently called for China to provide proof of Peng's whereabouts and leading tennis players expressed concern about her wellbeing.

with agencies

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