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Women's Tennis Association suspends tournaments in China over concern about Peng Shuai

FILE - Peng Shuai, of China, returns a shot to Maria Sakkari, of Greece, during the second round of the US Open tennis championships on ug. 29, 2019, in New York. China's Foreign Ministry is sticking to its line that it isn't aware of the controversy surrounding tennis professional Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her. A ministry spokesperson said Friday that the matter was not a diplomatic question and that he was not aware of the situation. (AP Photo/Michael Owens, File)
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai plays during the second round of the U.S.Open tennis championships in 2019. The Women's Tennis Association says they are canceling all tournaments in China after Peng Shuai was silenced after revealing her sexual assault.

The Women's Tennis Association is suspending all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statementreleased Wednesday.The decision from the WTA comes after Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai alleged that she was sexually assaulted by China's former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. The Chinese government deleted her post on the social media site Weibo, as well as her account. For weeks, there was concern over Peng's safety."Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation," Simon said in the statement."The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai's sexual assault accusation."The WTA did not note how many tournaments this decision will affect. But Simon said he is "greatly concerned" of the risks all players and staff would face if they were to hold events in China.On Nov. 21, officials from the International Olympic Committee held a 30-minute video call with Peng, who told them she was safe in her home in Beijing and asked for privacy at the time. Earlier, Chinese state media had posted a copy of an email it said that Peng sent to Simon, the WTA chairman, saying she was safe. But Simon questioned the authenticity of the email."I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," Simon said in a statement at the time. "The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe." The Sport & Rights Alliance praised the WTA's decision and has called on the International Olympic Committee to take a similar stance on the matter, especially considering there are just two months to go until the Winter Olympic games in Beijing in February 2022."The IOC's eagerness to ignore the voice of an Olympian who may be in danger and to support claims of state-sponsored media in China shows the urgent and critical need for an IOC human rights strategy in close consultation with affected stakeholders, placing athletes at the center," Andrea Florence, the acting director of the Sport & Rights Alliance, said in a statement. Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.