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Less than two weeks after Women’s Tennis Association chief Steve Simon made striking statements against the Chinese government that threatened to cost the tour intentionally billions, the head of the WTA decided Wednesday that he was done playing games over the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who made rape allegations against a high-ranking government official.
Simon announced in a press release that while the WTA “knows where Peng is,” the tour has “serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation” and the WTA Board of Directors have given approval to suspend operations in China.
“I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong,” Simon said. “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”
In 2019, China held tournaments that totaled $30.4 million in prize money including $14 million for the WTA Finals. China and the WTA were working on what Simon called “easily the largest and most significant Finals deal in the 45 years since the WTA was founded.”
There’s also a $120 million digital rights deal that the WTA had signed with the Chinese.
Simon stuck to his guns and pulled the plug on all of it.
“I very much regret it has come to this point. The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years. They should be proud of their achievements, hospitality, and success. However, unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China,” the WTA boss added.
“China’s leadership have left the WTA with no choice. I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue.”