Tennis: Djokovic, King back WTA's move to suspend tournaments in China over Peng Shuai concerns

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WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - WTA Tour chairman Steve Simon on Wednesday (Dec 1) said the women's tennis circuit is suspending all tournaments in China over concerns about the safety of Chinese player Peng Shuai.

The Women's Tennis Association had planned 11 events in China this year before Covid-19 forced it to be relocated or cancelled.

Resumption of competition there is now on hold.

"I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong," Simon said.

He remains concerned about Peng following her accusations of sexual assault against a powerful politician.

"In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault," Simon said.

"Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022."

The decision could cost the US-headquartered organisation hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship.

The WTA's aggressive expansion into China began just before the 2008 Beijing Olympic tennis tournament, and local interest in the sport was fuelled by Li Na winning the 2011 French Open.

In 2008, China hosted just two WTA events. That grew to nine by 2019.

In 2018, the city of Shenzhen bagged a 10-year deal to host the season-ending WTA Tour Finals with a breathtaking bid that doubled the prize pot to US$14 million (S$19 million) a year.

The WTA had also announced a 10-year deal starting 2017 with streaming platform iQiyi as its digital rights partner in China, reportedly worth US$120 million.

With the pandemic, many sporting events were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 and the WTA removed its Asian swing events, including this year's Tour Finals, which took place in Mexico. It is unclear when the next WTA event in China was scheduled to take place.

Peng, a 35-year-old Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, was not seen for more than two weeks following her allegations that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, now in his 70s, forced her into sex during a years-long on-and-off relationship.

Peng's claims against Zhang were the first time China's #MeToo movement ha...

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