Trade Wars

Peng Shuai rift deepens as WTA says boycott of China is about ‘good and evil’

SHANGHAI – As his differences with China over the Peng Shuai affair deepened on Thursday, the head of the Women’s Tennis Association said he was suspending all tournaments on the mainland and in Hong Kong because certain things were wrong. “more important than money”.

The boycott move sparked a more angry backlash from Beijing, as Olympics officials said they held a second video call with the player, who was not seen in public for three weeks after he did. sexual assault allegations last month against a former senior Chinese Communist Party official.

WTA CEO Steve Simon commented on NBC’s “TODAY”, saying he doesn’t believe China or its tennis authorities have provided sufficient answers on the security and freedom of the game. Peng.

“It’s a decision on what’s right and wrong,” Simon said. “It is not a decision that can be influenced by the business, dollars or politics that may be associated with it.”

Simon’s comments come as the International Olympic Committee revealed on Thursday that he had another call with Peng and made arrangements to meet with her in person in January. The IOC has been heavily criticized by human rights activists and observers in China for his acceptance that Peng is safe and acting freely, as well as the apparent absence of such calls from any discussion of his original claim.

The saga led to a renewed focus on China and the athletic body ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Defending itself on Thursday, the IOC said in a statement it had “taken a very human and person-centered approach to his situation” and used “quiet diplomacy,” which it said was “the way most promising to proceed effectively in these humanitarian issues.

WTA Chief Steve Simon.Henry Romero / Reuters

The WTA has received international acclaim for being a rare example of a sports organization willing to compromise the economic opportunities offered by China and instead take a stand for human rights.

Basketball and football officials have come under fire for apologizing to Beijing after sports stars spoke out on issues such as Taiwan’s independence and allegations of mass detention and abuse of Uyghur Muslims, which Beijing denies.

The WTA’s decision, announced on Wednesday, prompted a further response from Beijing. The Chinese Tennis Association “expressed its outrage and firm opposition” to the move, which it said was based on “fictitious information,” according to a statement from the state newspaper Global Times.

The suspension not only “injured the affected athlete herself, but would also seriously harm the fair opportunities of female tennis players to compete” and “will harm the interests of the whole sport of tennis,” he said. he declares.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Thursday, “We have always been strongly opposed to acts that politicize sport.”

Earlier this week, China urged US companies that benefit from the country’s large market to “stand up for what is right” and “encourage the US administration to follow a sensible and pragmatic Chinese policy,” the vice-president said. Foreign Minister Xie Feng to the representatives of the United States. business community Tuesday.

Xie said he hoped it would be free from trade wars and “confrontation or conflict over values, ideology or geopolitics.”

The United States and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have both called for responses on Peng, joining a campaign led by prominent tennis stars including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.

Simon told NBC News on Thursday that the WTA received two emails from Peng and had limited contact with the Chinese Tennis Association. But he believes that all of these attempts to prove that Peng was acting freely, including the IOC’s appeal, were “orchestrated”.

We “cannot get away from it. If we have done that, we are telling everyone that not approaching sexual assault with the respect and seriousness that demands it is okay, ”he said. “It is just something that we cannot allow to happen, or tolerate, or compromise our principles.”

The Beijing National Tennis Center, where the ATP and WTA China Open tennis tournaments were held every year.Noel Celis / AFP – Getty Images

This is the latest round of criticism and counter criticism after Peng posted on Chinese social media platform Weibo on November 2 alleging that she was sexually assaulted during an otherwise consensual relationship. with Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the powerful Chinese Politburo. Standing Committee.

Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the State Council, the administrative arm of the Chinese government, have publicly commented on the allegations.

Peng’s post was quickly deleted, and Chinese government censors deleted the topic from Weibo. Peng was not seen in public for nearly three weeks, sparking a campaign from the stars of tennis and the WTA demanding proof that she was safe and an investigation into her allegations.

Chinese state media affiliated Twitter accounts posted images and a video showing Peng in a restaurant and at a youth tennis tournament. And the IOC said Thursday it has been “in regular contact” with Peng since her first call with her on November 21, when she told them she was “safe and healthy” and asked that her privacy is respected, according to the IOC. summary of the call.

But the WTA – along with human rights groups and other observers – say there is no evidence she is not coerced. And there is no public sign that the The allegations of sexual assault have been dealt with by Chinese authorities.

Janis Mackey Frayer reported from Shanghai and Alexander Smith from London.