Chinese media and authorities have slammed the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) for suspending tournament in China due to concerns over Peng Shuai, saying they had betrayed the Olympic spirit.
While the tennis world lauded WTA and its chief Steve Simon for the strong stance, the decision has angered China.
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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 WTA has acted as a lever of Western public opinion against China’s political system,” it said.
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“To this end, they repeat the old tricks and once again set the precedent of boycotting sports events for political purposes. This creates new uncertainties for international sports.”
There were concerns over former doubles Grand Slam champion Peng’s well-being as she went missing after accusing China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.
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On Wednesday, WTA decided to suspend all tournaments in China.
“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,” WTA chief Steve Simon said in a statement on Wednesday.
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Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly mention the WTA on Thursday but pointedly said that China “opposes the politicisation of sports”.
China has been an important partner for the WTA over the past few years.
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In 2018, China had promised to invest about $1 billion in women’s tennis, including for the construction of an all-new stadium, as part of the agreement.
China hosted nine tournaments in the 2019 season, including the season-ending WTA Finals, with a total of $30.4m (£22.6m) in prize money.