Novak Djokovic backs WTA threat to China over Peng Shuai issue as White House steps in

Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

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Novak Djokovic has backed the WTA boss’ plans to remove all tournaments from China until the issue of ‘missing’ tennis player Peng Shuai is resolved. The former doubles No 1 has not been heard from since accusing China’s former vice premier of sexual assault on November 2. The White House has also gotten involved, condemning China for “silencing” the tennis player and calling for proof that she is safe.

Peng Shuai took to Weibo – China’s Facebook equivalent – on November 2 to accuse now-retired politician Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a lengthy post, also detailing an on-off consensual affair with the man 40 years her senior, dating back to 2011.

The post was removed within half an hour, but the 35-year-old’s accusations have continued to rock China and the rest of the world as the first allegation believed to be made against a high-ranking member of China’s Communist Party, as Zhang served on their Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top ruling council – between 2012 and 2017.

Zhang has not responded to the claims, while a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegations when asked about the subject, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”

The Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion has not been directly heard from or accounted for since making the allegations, and the WTA chief has now threatened to withdraw all tournaments from China until the situation is resolved.

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Steve Simon, CEO and Chairman of the WTA, has continued to state that he would pull tour events out of the country if Peng Shuai was not safe, and if a full and fair investigation into her allegations was not made.

“If it doesn’t happen, we are prepared to move on, and deal with the challenges that will come with it, and they will be significant,” the women’s tennis boss told Tennis Channel.

Now, ATP world No 1 Novak Djokovic has backed the WTA’s decision to remove all tournaments from China if there is no satisfactory response to the situation.

“I’m really glad that there was a kind of an initiated reaction from both ATP and WTA Chairmen and it’s important because this is horrifying. A person is missing,” he said, speaking following his ATP Finals round-robin win over Cameron Norrie on Friday (November 19).

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“I mean I don’t know what I said just previously if it’s true or not that she’s found but I really hope so because she was number 1 in the world recently in doubles and one of the most well-known Chinese tennis players.”

The Serb threw his support behind Steve Simon in the decision to potentially leave China, with the city of Shenzhen currently the host of the season-ending WTA Finals, something that was previously described as a ‘billion-dollar deal’ for the WTA.

Djokovic continued: “And China is a huge country, it’s a very important part of the world, especially for the WTA, they have many tournaments there.

“I mean, this is necessary for us to take whatever actions, and I heard just now from Reem [Abulleil, journalist] that [the] WTA I willing to pull out from China with all the tournaments unless this is resolved, I support it 100%.”

The 20-time Grand Slam champion’s comments come as the White House have spoken out on the matter, condemning China for their “practices” of “silencing those that speak out”.

Speaking on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave a statement on behalf of the US government, saying: “We are deeply concerned by reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a former PRC senior official of sexual assault. We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe.

“I can’t speak, of course I know you’re not asking this, but to the details of the case or any more details of where she might be, obviously, but I want to be clear where the United States stands, generally speaking.

“First, any report of sexual assault should be investigated, and we support a woman’s ability to speak out and seek accountability, whether here or around the world.

“Second, we’ll continue to stand up for the freedom of speech and we know the PRC has zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those that speak out, and we continue to condemn those practices.”
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