Women’s tennis events in China suspended over Peng Shuai’s safety concerns

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has taken the unprecedented step of immediately suspending all of its events in China, citing the failure of the authorities to take up Chinese star Peng Shuai’s allegations of sexual abuse by a former senior Communist Party leader. Ms. Peng had posted a message on November 2 on Chinese social media revealing she had been sexually assaulted by former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli 10 years ago, when she was 25 and he was 65, and then subsequently began a years-long affair with him. The message was deleted by the censors within half an hour of being posted and was followed by an extensive censorship effort aimed at removing all information. The WTA and a number of stars expressed concerns about Ms. Peng’s whereabouts after she disappeared from public view for two weeks after the statement and had her account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter equivalent, blocked from public view. Responding to the outpouring of concern, Chinese state media subsequently released videos showing the former women’s doubles world number one in Beijing, having dinner with friends and attending a youth tournament. The WTA responded saying the videos did not address questions about her safety or the allegations, adding that it had been unable to contact her. Announcing the suspension of all the tournaments Mr. Simon said that “the Women’s Tennis Association recognized that Peng Shuai’s message had to be listened to and taken seriously”. The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less. From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved.