‘Still no direct contact with Peng’

Peng Shuai is a former world number one doubles player and reached 14th place in the singles rankings in 2011

Chinese player Peng Shuai has not yet been in direct contact with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which says “no amount of money” would stop the tour that pulls events from China.

Peng has not been heard from since he made allegations of sexual assault against a senior Chinese government official.

WTA President Steve Simon told the BBC that there will be no events in China next year without proof that Peng is safe.

“We cannot keep commitments. This is a right and wrong issue,” he said.

The Chinese Tennis Association has told the WTA that Peng is safe, and in Beijing, although Simon said there has been no confirmation that this is true.

“I am very, very worried about her,” he said in an interview with the BBC on Friday.

Fears for the well-being of the 35-year-old Peng have continued to grow since she said on November 3 that she was “forced” into a sexual relationship with China’s former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Peng made the allegations in a post on Chinese social media site Weibo and they were soon removed from China’s internet.

It is the first time that such a claim has been made against one of China’s top political leaders.

Simon added: “I am very concerned about the challenges that arise when someone has the courage to step up and speak up, bringing up a past experience that is linked to sexual assault or harassment.

“It takes a lot of courage to get to that point, and now you are dealing with more pressure if you are listening to what is happening.

“It is critical to us that we can make sure that she knows that we are concerned about her and that we are prepared to offer whatever level of support she needs.”

Peng is a former world number one doubles player who won two Grand Slam titles – at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the 2014 French Open, both alongside Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei.

He also achieved a career-high singles ranking of 14 in 2011 and reached the semifinals of the US Open in 2014.

Earlier this week, Chinese state media published an email attributed to Peng, but Simon cast doubt about its authenticity.

Speaking with BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller, Simon said he did not believe that speaking out and demanding responses from the Chinese authorities was counterproductive.

“Diplomacy is always very, very strong and I am sure they would prefer that we not talk about this,” he said.

“I think it is better to approach it than to work in a vacuum where no one knows and the world is trying to figure out our position.

“I feel very comfortable with the approach we have taken at this time and we will continue to do so in a very respectful and hopefully responsible manner.”

WTA ready to withdraw tournaments from China

The WTA has relied heavily on Chinese investment in its players’ tour, leading to a number of lucrative tournaments and season-ending tournaments that have been held in the country over the past few years.

But Simon said that guarantees about Peng’s safety and a transparent investigation into his allegations were of the utmost importance to the WTA, not the financial implications of withdrawing the events from China if these conditions are not met.

“This is not about money, it is about doing the right thing and making sure Peng Shuai is safe and free,” added Simon.

“The sad part about this is that we have tremendous partners and tremendous friendships in China.

“We don’t want to be in this position, but at the end of the day, this is one of those decisions where compromises are not acceptable.

“We have to do what is right here and we will figure it out if we end up in that position at the end of the day.”

The stars speak as people ask #WhereIsPengShuai

Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have been among those who have raised concerns about Peng’s whereabouts.

People across tennis, including past and present players, coaches and journalists, have been demanding answers about Peng’s well-being, as have other high-profile sports stars, actors and politicians.

Many have been using #WhereIsPengShuai in Twitter posts, along with a photo of her.

The Lawn Tennis Association, the UK’s governing body for the sport, said it has “offered assistance” to the WTA to “establish the safety and well-being” of Peng.

The United Nations says it wants proof of Peng’s whereabouts and has urged the need for an investigation “in full transparency.”


Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent

The exit from China would have significant repercussions for the finances of the WTA Tour, the earnings of its players and the spread of the sport among the 1.4 billion inhabitants of the country.

Steve Simon disputes that the Tour has put too many eggs in one basket, but there are generally 10 Chinese events a year on the WTA calendar. Many are very lucrative.

The last time the WTA Finals took place in Shenzhen, in 2019, there were $ 14 million in prize money.

And 15 of the world’s top 20 did not make it to Wuhan, just two weeks after the conclusion of the 2019 US Open, only to visit Li Na’s birthplace.

The financial loss would affect deeply. But Simon believes that on this issue “compromises are not acceptable.”


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