Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai
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The ATP has been slammed by players and fans alike after their “embarrassing” statement regarding the ongoing situation with female star Peng Shuai. Concerns remain over the safety and freedom of the Chinese former world number one doubles player a month after she accused a former top politician of sexual assault.
Peng went ‘missing’ for around two weeks after she made the allegations against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli on Chinese social media site Weibo.
After a period of silence on the topic, Chinese state media began to release pieces of ‘proof’ that the 35-year-old is safe and well.
But few have accepted the assortment of photos and videos as concrete evidence that she is able to operate of her own free will, and have demanded “verifiable proof” of her freedom and safety.
Earlier this week the EU waded into the row, demanding that China offers such evidence and conducts a thorough and detailed investigation into her sexual abuse allegations.
And on Wednesday the WTA Tour immediately suspended all tournaments in the country over its lack of co-operation in the matter.
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“The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation, said chief executive Steve Simon.
“None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. 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.
“I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.
“As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong.
“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.”
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The WTA has been widely praised for its detailed statement and for taking swift and stern action over the situation.
But an ATP statement released on Thursday has been ridiculed with similar enthusiasm, with fans and players alike slamming its brevity and lack of substance.
“The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport,” ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said in the statement.
“The response to those concerns has so far fallen short. We again urge for a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation.
“We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact.
“We will continue to consult with our members and monitor any developments as this issue evolves.”
British female tennis player Tara Moore was one of the first to respond, calling on the ATP Tour to “do better” and praising the WTA for “leading the way”.
And American star Reilly Opelka responded by sarcastically claiming the statement was “powerful”, before adding a second tongue-in-cheek message: “I was particularly moved by the part where he said ‘we will monitor any developments as this issue evolves’.”
Fans were also quick to condemn the statement, with several describing it as “pathetic”.
One Twitter user said: “Where the WTA lead, men’s tennis has completely failed to follow. A sham of a statement aimed at not upsetting, rather than holding to account.
“It doesn’t even mention the words China or sexual assault allegations. Very much doubt this is going to cut it with the players.”
Another added: “The ATP Tour issues a statement that gets nowhere near the decisive bold response from the WTA yesterday.”
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