China Responds to WTA Boycott as IOC Talks Again with Peng Shuai

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China attacked the boycott of the Women’s Tennis Association in response to the treatment of Peng Shuai, as the International Olympic Committee claimed it had had a second video conversation with the player.

Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told a daily press briefing that his government “continues to strongly oppose acts that politicize sport.”

The WTA said on Wednesday it was suspending all tournaments in China in response to lingering questions about Peng’s condition.

Its chairman, Steve Simon, said he did not see how he could ask his athletes to compete in mainland China and Hong Kong “when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has apparently been pressured to contradict his allegation of sexual assault ”.

He said, “Considering the current state of affairs, I am also very concerned about the risks all of our players and staff may face if we host events in China in 2022.”

Peng, 35, accused a 75-year-old former Chinese official of sexually assaulting her in a lengthy social media post on November 2. The essay was quickly withdrawn and she was not seen in public for more than two weeks.

The IOC, which has been accused of staging a “publicity stunt” for Beijing by hosting a video chat with Peng on November 21 and stating that she said she was “safe and healthy”, said said he had a second call with her on Wednesday.

He said, “We share the same concern with many other people and organizations regarding the welfare and safety of Peng Shuai. We use “quiet diplomacy” which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organizations, is indicated as the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters. “

No details were given of the conversation.

The WTA was one of the first international sports associations to question Peng’s well-being. Naomi Osaka’s other tennis stars at Serena Williams tweeted in solidarity with Peng using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

Over the past month, media organizations affiliated with the Chinese state have attempted to show that Peng is okay by posting videos and photos of her. But instead, those efforts turned a #MeToo complaint into a diplomatic incident.

Several Western governments, including the United States and Australia, have called on Beijing to prove Peng is safe. The Biden administration has said it is considering a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

The WTA boycott decision on Wednesday marked a significant change in the way sports associations have treated China. In the past, organizations quickly retreated to Beijing for fear of losing its lucrative market.

The WTA, which over the past decade has made huge investments in the Chinese market, has not hosted events in the country since the Covid pandemic. But during the 2019 season, China hosted nine tournaments, including the WTA Finals, with a total of $ 30.4million (£ 22.6million) in prize money – a significant chunk of the revenue. of the WTA.

Mark Dreyer, the founder of Beijing-based China Sports Insider, said the WTA’s decision would put pressure on other associations, such as the men’s professional tennis tour, ATP. “The WTA is winning the moral battle in the west, and it will be quite difficult for other organizations to do it differently. “

Tennis stars hailed the WTA’s decision to put human rights ahead of profits. “I applaud Steve Simon and the leaders of the WTA for their strong stance in defending human rights in China and around the world,” said Billie Jean King, the former US world number 1. “The WTA is on the right side of history in supporting our players. This is another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sport.

Novak Djokovic, the men’s No.1, said he fully supports the WTA’s position and said other organizations such as its Association of Professional Tennis Players and the Association of Tennis Professionals “are asking for clarification on what was happening “.

“We don’t have enough information and I think that’s a very bold and very courageous position for the WTA,” said Djokovic.

The story from the Beijing side, however, is quite different. In a tweet Wednesday, the editor of the Global Times, a hard-core nationalist state newspaper, criticized the WTA for “forcing Peng Shuai to support the West’s attack on the Chinese system.”

Hu Xijin wrote: “They are depriving Peng Shuai of free speech, demanding that his description of his current situation meet their expectations. “


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