Peng Shuai: China Rejects WTA’s Politicization of Tennis Over Player’s Safety

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Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Peng Shuai: China Rejects WTA’s Politicization of Tennis Over Player’s Safety” – below is their description.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to the Women’s Tennis Association’s decision to suspend all tournaments in China due to concerns over tennis star Peng Shuai’s safety. Wang declined to comment on whether China would be open to talks with the WTA while saying the government opposes the politicization of sports.

The WTA, which in 2018 inked a lucrative 10-year deal to hold the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, had earlier threatened to stop doing business in China if it failed to probe Peng’s relationship and concerns about sexual assault involving Zhang Gaoli, once the seventh most-powerful man in the country.

“If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback,” WTA chief Steve Simon wrote. “I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”

Communist Party-backed newspaper Global Times warned the WTA it was “opening a Pandora’s Box” for suspending its China events, as the International Olympic Committee said it held a second video call with the star player.

The Global Times accused the WTA of displaying “radicalism” in an English-language editorial posted only as a screenshot to its account on Twitter, which is blocked in China. It didn’t appear on the newspaper’s website or any Chinese-language platforms.

“The WTA has acted as a lever of Western public opinion against China’s political system,” the editorial said, connecting the move with calls from Western politicians to boycott the Olympics set for early next year. The newspaper said the organization was “setting a bad example for the entire sporting world” and called its members “betrayers of the Olympic spirit.”

In a statement, the IOC said it held a second call with Peng and would “stay in regular touch with her.” The organization, which has hundreds of millions at stake in the games, has faced criticism for helping Beijing to silence her – claims one senior IOC official dismissed as “silly” in an interview with Bloomberg Television this week.

“We are using ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organizations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters,” the IOC said. The call this week “reconfirmed” she “appeared to be safe and well,” it added.

The WTA’s move is likely to increase pressure on athletes and corporate sponsors ahead of the Winter Olympics. The U.S. and its allies are already weighing a diplomatic boycott of the Games over China’s human-rights record, while reports in the country’s state-run media have suggested Beijing wouldn’t invite many foreign dignitaries to the event.

The former world doubles No. 1 disappeared from the public eye for weeks after publishing a 1,500-word essay on her verified Weibo account last month alleging she’d had a yearslong affair with a former Chinese vice premier. That account, which was scrubbed from the Chinese internet, described an episode that raised concerns she was coerced into sex.

The Chinese Tennis Association expressed its “indignation and firm opposition” to the WTA’s decision in a statement that didn’t name Peng or include details of her claims, state broadcaster CGTN reported.

“The unilateral decision of the WTA, in name of ‘protecting its players,’ was made based on fictitious information,” the CTA wrote, according to the news outlet. “It not only beset and hurt the relevant athlete herself, but also will severely harm the female tennis players’ fair opportunities to compete, then damage the interest of the entire sport of tennis.”

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