Tennis Stars Pressure Men's Tour to Join WTA in China Boycott

Tennis Stars Pressure Men's Tour to Join WTA in China Boycott

Several renowned tennis players, including women’s tennis legend Martina Navratilova, sternly criticized the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) men’s tennis league on Thursday for refusing to join the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in boycotting China over the mistreatment of tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a top Communist Party official of rape.

The WTA stunned the world on Wednesday by announcing it would suspend all games in China and Hong Kong until the Chinese government conducted a “full and transparent investigation” into Peng’s allegations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Peng disappeared from public view for weeks after making her allegation in a social media post aggressively scrubbed by Communist censors. She eventually reappeared in some dubious email communications and photos that may have been created under duress, then allegedly held a teleconference with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which pronounced itself satisfied with her health and safety.

WTA chair Steve Simon questioned the value of the IOC teleconference, arguing that Peng could still be acting under compulsion by the brutal Chinese regime, and said he could not in good conscience expose international WTA players to abuse by such an oppressive government.

“None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players,” Simon wrote on Wednesday.

On Thursday, ATP chair Andrea Gaudenzi issued a statement that appeared supportive of the WTA’s position, but he did not join the boycott of China:

The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport. The response to those concerns has so far fallen short. We again urge for a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation.

We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact.

We will continue to consult with our members and monitor any developments as this issue evolves

ATP’s statement was slammed as “disappointing” by human rights activists who urged Gaudenzi to take a stronger stand and join the WTA boycott against “Xi Jinping’s human rights black hole,” as Deputy European Media Director Jan Kooy of Human Rights Watch put it.

John Hayward