Confused, concerned and fearful. The disappearance Peng Shuai has sparked major human rights concerns in China.
The chairman, Steve Simon, of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) with support from the Board of Directors, has put an immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China following safety concerns of Peng Shuai, former doubles world No.1.
Earlier this month, 35-year-old Peng, wrote a 1,600-word Weibo post accusing former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. The post was taken down minutes later. Peng has not proof to back up her claim, but suspicion began to arise after 3 weeks of her unknown whereabouts.
What has China said?
On the 17th of November, the Chinese state media outlet CGTN posted a tweet of an email from Peng to WTA chairman Steve Simon that her previous allegations were “not true”. Then days later, photos of Peng on her WeChat account were posted captioned “Happy Weekend” (rather questionable if you ask me).
Reports of her guest appearance at a tennis tournament in Beijing with video footage by Hu Xijin from Global Times was also announced on Twitter.
The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said he has spoke to Peng and she “thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing.”
The most direct response from the Chinses Government is from the Chinese foreign ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian who states the suspension over Peng is “maliciously hyped up” and China has been swift to Censor any comments related to Peng’s post and even going as far as to block search terms relating to her. (Really not helping their case)
WTA chairman Steve Simon has “serious doubts” that Peng is “free, safe and not subject to intimidation” and iterated that he will not put other athletes at risk by competing in China if their freedom of speech should affect their safety.
Simon is worried about the financial implications of boycotting China but reiterates that Peng’s case is “bigger than the business” and sexual assault against women especially concerning the WTA cannot be swept aside, there must be action taken against it or it is an “immense setback” for their organisation.
Several world tennis players have spoken out and supported the WTA in their decision, such as Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Novak Djokovic saying WTA is “very bold and courageous” and that Peng’s health is “utmost importance to the world of tennis”.
Ultimately, If a man as powerful as Zhang Gaoli can silence an international treasure then we as a collective can make him accountable.