The State Department said it’s standing with the Women’s Tennis Association in taking on Beijing over Peng Shuai, China’s top tennis player who disappeared for weeks after she publicly denounced a retired senior Chinese official for sexually assaulting her.
The WTA on Dec. 1 moved to halt all matches in mainland China and Hong Kong indefinitely over concerns for Peng, making it the first sports body to challenge China’s communist regime over human rights. With China being the WTA’s biggest market, the suspension could potentially cost the organization hundreds of millions in broadcasting and sponsorship.
“We applaud the WTA for its principled decision,” a State Department spokesperson told The Epoch Times.
“U.S. businesses working in the PRC help shape the U.S.–China relationship and we think it’s important they retain the ability to speak out in support of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression,” the spokesperson said.
Neither Zhang Gaoli, the former vice-premier accused by Peng, nor Chinese officials have made public comments regarding her sexual assault claims.
Peng was not seen for nearly three weeks after she detailed her allegation in a quickly deleted post on her verified social media account. Following a global outcry in the tennis world, Peng showed up in a series of video footage released from Chinese state media and later a video call with the International Olympic Committee, after which the IOC cited Peng in saying that she was “safe and well.”
CGTN, a Chinese state broadcaster in English, also attributed an email screenshot to Peng that disavowed her claims and said “everything is fine.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation surrounding Peng Shuai. We have not seen or heard anything that allays our concerns for her well-being,” said the State Department spokesperson.
The spokesperson added that the United States will continue to support efforts to seek accountability for sexual assault and stand up for freedom of expression—”especially in light of the PRC government’s zero-tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those that speak out.”
It’s unclear whether other major sports leagues will follow the WTA’s lead and give up their share of profits in China.
In a statement released a day after WTA’s announcement, the Association of Tennis Professionals said it continues to have serious concerns about Peng’s situation and urged for “a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA” but made clear it would not cancel events.
“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,” said the ATP’s chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.
The IOC, which has described its efforts as a campaign of “quiet diplomacy,” said on Dec. 2 that it held a second call with Peng. The IOC said it had “offered wide-ranging support” to Peng and arranged for a personal meeting in January.
“There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety,” the statement read, adding that they have “taken a very human and person-centered approach to her situation.”
The statement made no direct mention of Peng’s sexual assault claims and only described it as a “difficult situation she is in.” Neither did the IOC release a video or transcript of the call or give details on how it was set up.
From The Epoch Times