BEIJING: An outcry over the whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai escalated on Friday (November 19) when the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it was ready to withdraw its tournaments from China if it wasn’t satisfied with the response to them be Sexual assault allegation.
Former double-world number one Peng hasn’t been seen or heard publicly since she said on Chinese social media in early November that a former vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, forced her to have sex and that they later had a friendly relationship.
Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government commented on their allegations. Peng’s social media post was quickly deleted and the topic was locked for discussion on China heavily censored internet.
Concern in the global tennis community and beyond has grown over Peng’s safety and whereabouts since her accusation, with the WTA call for an investigation and the world’s top players including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka tweeted #WhereIsPengShuai.
WTA chief Steve Simon told various US media outlets on Thursday that the tour would consider withdrawing tens of millions of dollars’ worth of tournaments from China.
“We are definitely ready to pull out of business and deal with any complications that come with it,” he told CNN in an interview.
“Because that’s certainly bigger than business. Women must be respected and not censored. “
China has been the focus of aggressive WTA expansion for the past decade, hosting nine tournaments in the 2019 season – the last prior to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – with a total of $ 30.4 million in prize money.
Hu Xijin, a well-connected Chinese state media editor burdened the scandal on Twitter early Friday, saying he did not believe Peng was the target of retaliation.
“As a person familiar with the Chinese system, I do not believe that Peng Shuai has received any retaliation or repression speculated by foreign media,” Hu, the editor of the Global Times, said on Twitter.
The Global Times is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, and Hu is active on Twitter, which is banned in China. He made no similar comment on his official Weibo account, China’s counterpart to Twitter.
The problem emerged as China prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February amid calls from global human rights groups and others to boycott its human rights record.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would not comment.
“Experience shows that quiet diplomacy is the best way to find a solution to such questions,” said an IOC spokesman. “That explains why the IOC will not comment further at this point.”