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International Tennis Federation will not back Women’s Tennis Association China boycott

International Tennis Federation will not back Women’s Tennis Association China boycott
December 7, 2021

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has advised that it will not cancel any tournaments in China over concerns for player Peng Shuai, explaining that it will not follow the stance of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

Facing calls to join the WTA in suspending all tournaments in China over the government’s refusal to provide assurances of Peng’s wellbeing, the ITF - the governing body of men's professional tennis - has said it will not cancel any tournaments saying it does not want to “punish 1.4 billion people”.

Peng, a former doubles world No 1 and three-time Olympian, was not seen for several weeks after she posted an essay to social media accusing the China’s former Vice-Premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexually assaulting her.

After Chinese authorities failed to initiate an investigation or provide assurances of her wellbeing which satisfied the WTA, the organisation announced it was suspending all tournaments in China.

On Sunday, ITF President, David Haggerty, told BBC Sport the allegations needed to be looked into and they would continue to work on that resolution, but they would not be following the WTA.

Haggerty advised “you have to remember that the ITF is the governing body of the sport worldwide, and one of the things that we are responsible for is grassroots development.

“We don’t want to punish a billion people, so we will continue to run our junior events in the country and our senior events that are there for the time being.”

Haggerty’s comments added to a short statement released last week by the ITF after a board meeting.

This explained “the International Tennis Federation, as the governing body of tennis, stands in support of all women’s rights.

“Our primary concern remains Peng Shuai’s wellbeing. The allegations Peng made must be addressed. We will continue to support all efforts being made to that end, both publicly and behind the scenes.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it held another video call with Peng at the end of last week, offering her wide-ranging support, advising it “will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.”

The IOC said Peng "appeared to be safe and well" during a call last month and said this was "reconfirmed" during its most recent contact.

Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the government have commented on Peng's accusation and the topic has been blocked on China's heavily-censored internet.

WTA Chief Executive, Steve Simon said the move to put a halt to the tour's play in China, including Hong Kong, came with the backing of the WTA Board of Directors, players, tournaments and sponsors.

In response to the WTA’s move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at the end of last week that China "opposes the politicisation of sports".

In an editorial, the Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily, said the WTA was betraying the Olympic spirit and bringing politics into tennis.

The newspaper stated "some forces in the West are instigating a boycott against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics," it added, referring to the February event which some rights groups want boycotted over China's human rights record.

Image: the Zhuhai Hengqin International Tennis Centre hsoting its first WTA event in 2015. Credit: Huafa Sports Operation and Management Co Ltd.

About the author

Nigel Benton

Co-founder/Publisher, Australasian Leisure Management

Nigel Benton is the co-founder and Publisher of Australasian Leisure Management, Australia and New Zealand’s only magazine for professionals in all areas of the leisure industry. Having established the magazine in 1997, shortly after his relocation to Australia, he has managed its readership rising to over 11,500 and its acceptance as the industry journal for professionals in aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues.

In 2020, he launched the new Asian Leisure Business website.

Among a range of published works and features, his comments on a Blog (blogspot) from 2007 to 2011, when this website went live in its current form, may be interesting to reflect back on.

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