WTA suspending tournaments in China – the right move?

For me, this is one of the biggest tennis news stories of the entire 2021 year. At the beginning of November 2021, Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis player went public making claims against a previously high-profile government official for sexual assault. Since the claims, Shuai has seemingly been forced to reverse her stance. Worse still, fears for her well-being have been widespread. She practically disappeared for two weeks after making these claims public via social media. 

Peng Shuai

However, the WTA is now happy that Shuai is okay, and that our worst fears have seemingly not been realized. But due to the ongoing saga, the WTA has suspended all tournaments taking place in China and Hong Kong. This isn’t just a move to show support for Shuai, it’s a move to highlight an underlying issue regarding censorship and control in this part of the world. 

But putting politics aside, has the WTA made the right move here? Let’s find out.

A thorough look at the decision to ban tournaments in China & Hong Kong

While these places might not have any Grand Slams, there are many high-profile tournaments located here. So it’s not like this is a decision relating to a few, low key events. The decision is enormous, but what are the impacts?

Support on two fronts

As you can see, this decision shows that the WTA is behind Shuai for two reasons. One – she has had the courage to speak up regarding sexual assault. Two – the issue has highlighted just how severe government suppression and control might be in this part of the world. Of course, female tennis players coming from China or Hong Kong need to feel safe and they deserve to be able to compete in the sport they love. The WTA’s stance to cease operations here shows courage and real care for the players that make up the organization.

Significant pressure on the Chinese government

Without making this a political debate, censorship is a real problem in this part of the world. Everyone knows it, and there is growing concern from ‘the west’ that people, and in this case, professional athletes, don’t have the freedoms they deserve. The case of Shuai isn’t the first – it’s merely a case that has received the right media coverage and support from various outlets. For me, the fact that Steve Simon, WTA Chairman, has taken this stance is massive. 

I would hope that other governing bodies in sport also start to take a closer look at the wellbeing of players in this part of the world.

Significant losses for the WTA

Some might view the WTA’s move as a ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ situation. But I don’t believe this. The move to cancel all tournaments here will cost the WTA millions in lost revenue. Therefore, it’s clear that the organization is willing to take a hit in order to raise the importance of what has happened to Peng Shuai. Again, this shows long term vision, and for me, it is the right move.

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