Women's Tennis Association Suspends Events in China Following Peng Shuai's Disappearance

Tennis star disappeared after she accused a top Communist Party official of rape

Tennis star Peng Shuai in 2014 / Getty Images
December 1, 2021

The Women's Tennis Association announced that it will suspend all tournaments and other events in China, including in Hong Kong, in light of tennis star Peng Shuai's disappearance after she accused a Chinese Communist Party official of raping her.

WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement Wednesday that his organization cannot "ask our athletes to compete" in China when Peng "is not allowed to communicate freely."

"While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation," Simon wrote.

Peng, who in 2011 ranked as the 14th greatest female tennis player in the world, on Nov. 2 alleged that former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli raped her. She disappeared after making the accusation. Chinese state media on Nov. 17 released an email they claimed was from Peng, recanting her accusations. Human rights organizations have said the statement is likely fabricated or forced.

Peng on Nov. 21 appeared on a video call with International Olympic Committee officials that did little to allay suspicions. Human rights lawyer and former Olympian Nikki Dryden called the "proof-of-life video" a Communist Party "publicity stunt."

Until Chinese officials "cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair, and transparent manner," Simon wrote, the WTA will not hold any events in China.

The WTA's decision to oppose Chinese oppression contrasts with decisions made by other American sports organizations. The National Basketball Association, for example, has long stayed quiet on human rights abuses in China, a market in which it has made billions of dollars. The NBA was equally silent on China's June crackdown on Hong Kong journalists.