Former tennis pros criticize ATP for not halting play in China with Peng Shuai safety concerns continuing
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced suspension of all tennis events in China until the safety of Peng Shuai is confirmed.
Since this decision, the ATP (the men’s professional league) has yet to suspend its tournaments in China. ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi released a statement regarding the Shuai situation, but the ATP declined to answer any questions about whether or not it would suspend China events.
“The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport,” Gaudenzi said, via a 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.”
MORE: What to know about ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’
Shuai’s safety and location remains unknown following a sexual assault claim she made against a former top Chinese government official on Nov. 2. Since the claim, Shuai has spoken with the International Olympic Committee via video call, but she has yet to speak to the WTA. This is why there are still concerns about her general safety.
WTA chairman Steve Simon released a statement to accompany the WTA’s announcement on Wednesday, in which he said he didn’t want to have to cancel the events, but he felt it was necessary to ensure the safety of Shuai and other WTA members.
“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,” said Simon’s statement. “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.”
MORE: Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai tells IOC in video call that she is safe and well
Following this news from the WTA, a few former tennis professionals have criticized the ATP for not following suit. Former No. 1 Andy Roddick retweeted the ATP’s statement and said “how to say a lot of words and say nothing.”
How to say a lot of words and say nothing https://t.co/EKXMTYgvZP — andyroddick (@andyroddick) December 2, 2021
Another former American professional Martina Navratilova also has retweeted criticizing comments about the ATP, and added some opinions herself.
Are we to understand that the @ATP would have made the same statement had the player been a male? An atp tour pro?!? Somehow I think not.#embarassing https://t.co/eokSqwXQbu — Martina Navratilova (@Martina) December 2, 2021
While not many other tennis players have commented on the ATP’s announcement specifically, some current players have commented on Shuai’s safety, bringing light to her situation. Serena Williams, arguably the most famous women’s tennis player of all time, has tweeted about Shuai when the concern of her safety first began. Two of those players include former No. 1 Andy Murray and current No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6 — Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021
Female tennis player Peng Shuai whereabouts currently unknown after making Sexual abuse allegations against Chinese government official.
This speech gives us a reminder and some hope that things can change in the future 🙏 #WhereIsPengShuai https://t.co/eKnLCHcPLj — Andy Murray (@andy_murray) November 19, 2021
The Tennis Chief Taking on China Over Peng Shuai
Simon’s refusal to accept China’s authoritarian stance on human rights once it directly affected one of his players stands in stark contrast to several high-profile leaders in sports who have repeatedly bent to the desires of the Chinese, including Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.
Simon has been concerned about Peng’s physical safety but also believed, as did the members of his player council and others he communicates with regularly in a player chat group, that the silencing of Peng and her sexual assault allegation amounted to a direct attack on the principle of equality upon which the WTA was founded.
“It’s now December and we’ve not seen any meaningful progress,” he said Wednesday night.
Simon, a 66-year-old Southern California native, played tennis at Long Beach State University and mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1981 alongside Lea Antonoplis. He has spent his adult life in tennis coaching, running the tennis program for Adidas, and organizing and eventually directing the BNP Paribas Open, a joint men’s and women’s event in Indian Wells, Calif., known as the fifth Grand Slam.
All along, Simon was quietly gaining authority within tennis circles, even if few of the players knew him particularly well. He began serving on the board of the WTA in 2004.
In 2009, he worked to get Stacey Allaster, then the president of the WTA, appointed as the next chief executive. Allaster said during a rough moment for her candidacy, she privately asked Simon if he might be a better fit to lead the organization.
“Without a blink he turned to me and said, ‘No, we’re going to stay the course,’” Allaster said.
Six years later, after Allaster decided to step down, the WTA board unanimously selected Simon to succeed her. He has since cultivated the support of the sport’s biggest stars of the present and past, including Serena Williams and King, the founder of the WTA, while maintaining his decades-long relationships with the tournament directors who were his initial base of support.
EU asks for ‘verifiable proof’ that Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is safe
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union said Tuesday that it wants China to release “verifiable proof” that tennis player Peng Shuai is safe and to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into her sexual-assault allegations.
Peng, a three-time Olympian and former top-ranked doubles player, dropped out of public view after accusing a former Communist Party official of sexual assault.
Peng only has had a few direct contacts with officials outside China since she disappeared from public view earlier this month. She told Olympic officials in a Nov. 21 video call from Beijing that she was safe and well.
“Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom,” an EU spokesperson said.
Peng made the sexual-assault allegation online against a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli. The tennis player’s post was removed within minutes, and she stopped appearing in public.
See: Women’s tennis chief questions legitimacy of Chinese state media statement attributed to Peng Shuai
Also: Tennis players take on China’s Communist Party
“The EU joins growing international demands, including by sport professionals, for assurances that she is free and not under threat,” the EU said in a statement. “In this spirit, the EU requests the Chinese government to provide verifiable proof of Peng Shuai’s safety, well-being and whereabouts. The EU urges the Chinese authorities to conduct a full, fair and transparent investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.”
Peng adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared from public view in recent years after criticizing party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.
“The EU strongly opposes the use of the practice of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention…and calls upon China to comply with its human-rights obligations under national and international law,” the EU said.