Beijing: In a dramatic turn of events, the head of the Women's Tennis Association has decided to suspend all the WTA tournaments scheduled to be held in China next year including the year-ending WTA Finals with immediate effect.
This development comes at a time when the issues raised by the WTA against Beijing are still unaddressed.
This incident erupted in the public sphere when Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai, a former doubles champion, accused the former Vice Premier of China Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him in his residence.
She had even posted about this incident on her Weibo account, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, but the post was taken down just after 30 minutes by the Chinese censors.
She reportedly went missing and was not spotted in any public place or event which raised serious concerns about her safety and well-being. Although the Chinese immediately refuted these claims by calling them baseless, the WTA and other international organizations were clearly not buying these assurances.
"Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation," WTA Chief Steve Simon wrote in a statement.
Steve Simon maintained his tough stance against China and reiterated his demand for a full and transparent investigation without any form of censorship or restraint so as to ensure that justice prevails.
"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," he further added.
The WTA's decision to suspend tennis tournaments in China is a huge call as the organization would be hit hard financially which would result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. But the WTA chief said that they would never compromise with the safety of women and stated that if people in power are able to get away with these serious allegations of sexual assault, then the basis on which the WTA was founded - equality for women - would be severely hampered.