Peng Shuai: WTA threatens to pull out of tournaments in China amid tennis star’s disappearance

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Peng Shuai: WTA threatens to pull out of tournaments in China amid tennis star’s disappearance
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The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has threatened to pull its tournaments out of China as a growing number of stars in the game added to the clamour around Peng Shuai’s absence.

The 35-year-old has not been seen since a post on the Chinese social media site Weibo at the start of this month in which she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.

The WTA has already called for an immediate investigation by Chinese authorities and questioned the validity of a further message purporting to be by Peng this week claiming she was safe and well at home.

Now WTA chief executive Steve Simon has said he is ready to take more drastic action in a bid to ensure the player’s safety.

“We are at a crossroads with our relationship with China and operating our business over there,” Simon told CNN. “We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with that because this is certainly bigger than the business. Women need to be respected not censored.”

The WTA has invested heavily in China. Prior to the pandemic, the country hosted nine tournaments during the 2019 season with prize money in the region of £25million.

Simon’s stance was backed by Billie Jean King, who said: “Like so many others in and out of tennis, my concern for Peng Shuai’s safety and freedom grows each day.

“I am proud of WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon and the WTA leadership for taking a strong stance and leading the charge in the conversation to ensure Peng’s safety.

“The WTA’s voice in support of one of our members is exactly what we envisioned when we formed it, and it is gratifying to see multiple generations from the WTA family speak up in support of Peng.”

Arguably the women’s game’s biggest star in Serena Williams also called for an investigation into the disappearance of the former Grand Slam doubles champion.

Williams said: “This must be investigated and we most not stay silent. Sending our love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time.”

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