The Chinese player Peng Shuai made headlines this week after he was accused of sexual assault by fellow countryman, Hong Kong-based tennis star Eugenie Bouchard. It’s not yet clear if the two players will be able to ever settle their differences, but it is safe to say that they both have a lot at stake in finding some sort of resolution here.
Peng Shuai, a former world number one doubles player, was ranked 14th in singles in 2011.
Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis player, has yet to make contact with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which has said that “no amount of money” would prevent the tour from withdrawing tournaments out of China.
Since making sexual assault charges against a high Chinese government official, Peng has not been heard from.
Without assurance that Peng is secure, WTA chairman Steve Simon said there would be no tournaments in China next year.
“Compromises are unacceptable to us. This is a question of right and wrong “he said
The Chinese Tennis Association has assured the WTA that Peng is safe and in Beijing, while Simon claims there is no evidence.
Later that day, three photos of Peng with the text ‘Happy Weekend’ were shared on a WeChat account under her name. Kerry Allen, a China media specialist, questioned the validity of the message on the Chinese instant messaging site. external-link
In an interview with the, Simon remarked, “I’m really, extremely worried about her.”
Fears for Peng’s safety have grown after she claimed on November 3 that she was “forced” into a sexual connection with former China vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.
The charges were made by Peng in a post on the Chinese social media site Weibo, and they were quickly removed from China’s internet.
This is the first time such a charge has been leveled against a prominent Chinese politician.
“I’m particularly worried about the obstacles that arise when someone has the fortitude to stand forward and share a prior experience with sexual assault or harassment,” Simon said.
“It takes a lot of guts just to get to that point – and now she’s under much more stress if she can hear what’s going on.”
“It’s vital for us to be able to assure her that we’re concerned about her and that we’re ready to provide whatever amount of assistance she needs.”
Peng is a former world number one doubles player who has won two Grand Slam championships, both with Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-wei, at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
She also reached the US Open singles semi-finals in 2014 and attained a career-high singles ranking of 14 in 2011.
Chinese official media published an email ascribed to Peng earlier this week, but Simon questioned its legitimacy.
Simon told tennis journalist Russell Fuller that he did not feel it would be harmful to speak out loudly and demand explanations from the Chinese government.
“Diplomacy is usually quite powerful,” he continued, “and I am sure they would rather we didn’t speak about this.”
“I believe that addressing it is preferable than functioning in a vacuum, where no one knows and the world tries to figure out our viewpoint.”
“I’m quite happy with the approach we’ve taken so far, and we’ll keep doing it in a courteous and hopefully responsible manner.”
The WTA is preparing to remove events from China.
In recent years, the WTA has depended substantially on Chinese funding in its players’ tour, resulting in a number of expensive events and season-ending finals being staged in China.
However, Simon said that the WTA’s main concern was Peng’s safety and a transparent inquiry into her charges, not the financial ramifications of possibly pulling tournaments out of China if these requirements were not satisfied.
“This isn’t about the money; it’s about doing the right thing and ensuring Peng Shuai’s safety and freedom,” Simon continued.
“The terrible aspect about this is that we have some fantastic partners and connections in China.”
“We don’t want to be in this situation, but at the end of the day, concessions aren’t an option.”
“We have to do what is right here, and if we find ourselves in that situation at the end of the day, we’ll work it out.”
Ros Atkins on…Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai’s disappearance
Stars respond to questions from the public. #WhereIsPengShuai
Among those who have voiced worry over Peng’s whereabouts are Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray.
People from all walks of life, including former and current tennis players, coaches, and journalists, as well as other high-profile athletes, actors, and politicians, have been seeking answers concerning Peng’s well-being.
#WhereIsPengShuai has been trending on Twitter, along with a picture of her.
The Lawn Tennis Association, the sport’s regulatory body in the United Kingdom, said it had “assisted” the WTA in “establishing Peng’s safety and well-being.”
The United Nations says it seeks verification of Peng’s location and has called for a “completely transparent” probe.
Tennis journalist Russell Fuller
Withdrawing from China would have a substantial impact on the WTA Tour’s budget, player salaries, and the expansion of tennis among the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Steve Simon disagrees that the WTA has placed too many eggs in one basket, yet the WTA calendar typically includes 10 Chinese tournaments each year. Many of them are quite profitable.
The last time the WTA Finals were held in Shenzhen, in 2019, the prize pool was $14 million.
And 15 of the world’s top 20 players did not go to Wuhan, only two weeks after the 2019 US Open ended, to pay homage to Li Na’s homeland.
The monetary loss would be devastating. However, Simon argues that “compromises are not acceptable” on this matter.