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Peng Shuai scandal: Novak Djokovic backs WTA’s decision to suspend tournaments in China

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China amid concerns for the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. The two-time women’s doubles Grand Slam winner has not been seen in public since making sexual assault allegations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King along with men’s world number one Novak Djokovic have supported the WTA’s decision. Navratilova even went on to question the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) stance on the matter.

WTA chief Steve Simon admitted that he had serious concerns about the “safety” of Shuai, and questioned if she was free and safe and not subject to intimidation. The Chinese tennis player did speak to IOC president Thomas Bach, but the Women’s Tennis Association remained unconvinced.

“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there,” Simon said, as quoted by the BBC.

“The leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” he added. “If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”

Simon admitted that the financial implications of not hosting tournaments in China will be massive, but made it clear that WTA’s fight against suppressing allegations of sexual assault takes precedence over business interests in the region.

“This is something that we simply cannot walk away from,” Simon said. “If we walk away from what we have requested, what we are telling the world is [that] not addressing sexual assault with the respect and seriousness that it requires is OK, and it is just not. It is just something that we cannot let happen and we cannot walk away from that.”

Djokovic labelled the WTA’s decision “bold” and put his full support behind getting justice for Shuai. The 20-time men’s singles Grand Slam champion also insisted that the Chinese tennis star’s well-being was of utmost importance to the world of tennis.

“I support fully the WTA’s stance because we don’t have enough information about Peng Shuai and her well-being,” Djokovic said, as quoted in the Deccan Herald. “I think the position of the WTA is very bold and very courageous.”

Peng Shuai is a former world number one in doubles
William WEST/AFP
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