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In the strongest public stance against China by a sporting body, the head of the women’s professional tennis tour announced on Wednesday that all WTA tournaments would be suspended due to concerns about the safety of Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai, who served as a former champion. The player was charged. Sexual harassment government officials.

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Peng stepped out of public view after making allegations about former deputy prime minister Zhang Gaoli in a November 2 social media posting, which was quickly removed by Chinese authorities.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this serious issue in any credible manner,” WTA President and CEO Steve Simon wrote in a statement distributed by the tour. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that he is free, secure, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.”

related: Peng Shuai: Olympic Committee says it spoke to Chinese tennis star in 30-minute video call

Simon repeatedly called on what he dubbed a “complete and transparent investigation – without censorship” of Peng’s allegations on Wednesday. He said the move to halt his touring games in China, including Hong Kong, came “with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors”.

Simon said, “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask my athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and to deny allegations of sexual harassment.” They have been put under pressure.” “Given the current situation, I am also very concerned about the risks that all our players and staff may face if we hold events in China in 2022.”

China typically hosts about 10 women’s tennis tournaments every year, including the coveted season-ending WTA Finals, which are scheduled to be held there for a decade. The nation is the source of billions of dollars in income for various sporting entities based elsewhere, including the WTA (headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida), the NBA (out of New York), and the International Olympic Committee (Lausanne, Switzerland). ,

related: Peng Shuai: Doubts over China tennis star’s email raise security concerns

“I commend Steve Simon and the WTA leadership for taking a strong stand on protecting human rights in China and around the world,” said International Tennis Hall of Fame member and women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King. “The WTA has chosen to stay on the right side of history in protecting the rights of our players. This is another reason why women’s tennis is a leader in the women’s sport.”

The US Tennis Association lauded Simon and the WTA, tweeting a statement that read: “This type of leadership is courageous and what is needed to ensure that the rights of all individuals are protected and that everyone’s voice is heard.” Go.”

International Tennis Federation spokeswoman Heather Bowler said the ITF board would meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

“The WTA has been firm and true to its values ​​from the very beginning and we understand their decision,” the bowler said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Beijing is set to host the Winter Games starting February 4, and IOC President Thomas Bach said on November 21 that he spoke with Peng – a three-time Olympian – over a 30-minute video call. The IOC did not release a video or transcript of the exchange and only said that Bach said he was fine.

The IOC said in a statement that Peng was “doing well” and added that he had requested confidentiality. The IOC did not say how the call was arranged, although it has worked closely with the Chinese Olympic Committee and government officials to organize the upcoming Games.

Critics have suggested that Peng would not have called the IOC if she had indeed been free to speak.

The European Union said on Tuesday it wants China to present “verifiable evidence” that Peng – a 35-year-old who ranked No. 1 in doubles and won titles at Wimbledon and the French Open – is safe.

“His recent public appearance does not reduce concerns about his security and independence,” an EU spokesman said.

Many Chinese businessmen, activists and ordinary people have disappeared in recent years after criticizing ruling Communist Party figures or cracking down on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

Peng, in his deleted post, partially wrote: “I know that you, Deputy Minister Zhang Gaoli, a man of high status and power, have said that you are not afraid. With your wit, you certainly Will reject it or you can even use it against me, you can dismiss it regardless. Even if I am destroying myself, like throwing an egg against a rock , or a worm flying in a flame, I will still speak the truth about us.”

Concerns grew about her post being censored and then disappearing from public view, turning #WhereIsPengShuai into a trending topic on social media and featuring tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Martina. received support. Navratilova.

But news of the first #MeToo case to reach the political realm in China has not been reported by domestic media and its online discussion is highly censored.

Simon said, “If powerful people can stifle women’s voices and press allegations of sexual harassment down the rug, the premise on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – will be dealt a major blow. ” “I will not and will not allow this to happen to the WTA and its players.”