Don't want to punish 1.4 billion people: Tennis body won't boycott China over Peng Shuai
- The International Tennis Federation had been pressured to join the Women's Tennis Association
- Peng, a former world No. 1 in doubles, went missing for several weeks
- Peng's accusation resulted in China's censorship reaching unprecedented heights
The International Tennis Federation – the sport's global governing body – had been pressured to join the Women's Tennis Association in suspending all tournaments in China due to the government's refusal to provide assurances about Shuai's safety.
Peng, a former world No. 1 in doubles, went missing for several weeks after posting an essay on social media accusing Zhang Gaoli, China's former vice-premier, of sexually assaulting her. The WTA announced it was suspending all tournaments in China after Chinese authorities failed to launch an investigation or provide assurances of her safety that satisfied the WTA and its CEO Steve Simon.
The allegations needed to be investigated, and the ITF's president, David Haggerty, told BBC Sport on Sunday that they would keep working on a resolution, but they would not follow the WTA.
“You have to remember that the ITF is the governing body of the sport worldwide, and one of the things that we are responsible for is grassroots development,” he said. “We don’t want to punish a billion people, so we will continue to run our junior events in the country and our senior events that are there for the time being.”
Haggerty's remarks were added to a brief statement issued by the ITF following a board meeting last week.
“The International Tennis Federation, as the governing body of tennis, stands in support of all women’s rights,” it said. “Our primary concern remains Peng Shuai’s wellbeing. The allegations Peng made must be addressed. We will continue to support all efforts being made to that end, both publicly and behind the scenes.”
Peng's accusation resulted in China's censorship reaching unprecedented heights. Until 2018, Zhang was a member of the Politburo's seven-member standing committee, making him one of China's most senior officials and the most prominent Chinese figure to be named in the #MeToo movement. Her post was taken down from Weibo within a half-hour, and all online discussion was censored. For several weeks, the WTA and others claimed they couldn't reach her.
Following widespread international attention, including a campaign backed by sports organisations and celebrities, China's state media released photos and videos of Peng in public, claiming they proved her well-being. Simon, on the other hand, said the alleged evidence only made him more concerned because there was no indication she was under any kind of control and was able to speak freely.
Peng's video meetings with the president of the International Olympic Committee failed to reassure her supporters.
The WTA's viewpoint on Peng's case has been widely lauded, as sport grapples with how to strike a balance between human rights, players' freedom of speech, and the lucrative Chinese market. Other organisations, such as the men's Association of Tennis Professionals, have not yet taken or threatened to take similar action.