Peng Shuai: Novak Djokovic backs WTA’s ‘bold and courageous’ move to suspend China tournaments

·2 min read
Peng Shuai (Nigel French/PA) (PA Archive)
Peng Shuai (Nigel French/PA) (PA Archive)

World No1 Novak Djokovic has backed the WTA’s decision to pull out of all tournaments in China amid ongoing fears over the safety and wellbeing of Peng Shuai.

Peng, bar a video call with IOC president Thomas Bach and a clip having dinner supplied by Chinese state media, has not been seen in public since accusations of sexual assault against former China vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.

WTA chief executive Steve Simon, with full backing of the board, made the decision on Wednesday night night to suspend all its tournaments in China because of serious doubts that the 35-year-old was “free, safe and not subject to intimidation”. He said: “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there”.

That move is likely to prove costly to the WTA. In 2019, China hosted nine WTA tournaments with a total of £22.6million in prize money.

Despite it being to the obvious detriment of the WTA’s finances, Djokovic backed the “very bold and courageous” move.

He said: “I support fully the WTA’s stance because we don’t have enough information about Peng Shuai and her wellbeing.”

That was echoed by former world No1 and WTA founder Billie Jean King. She said: “This is another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports. The WTA is on the right side of history in supporting our players.”

In addition, Martina Navratilova heralded the body’s “brave stance” and called on the IOC to also make a stance.

In response, China said that it “opposes the politicisation of sports”.

The IOC have since claimed to have had a second video call with Peng and planned to meet with her in January.

“We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the wellbeing and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her,” they said on Thursday.

“We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.”

The IOC added that Peng appeared to be “safe and well given the difficult situation she is in.”

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