Peng Shuai: ITF refuses to suspend events in China to not 'punish a billion people'

The International Tennis Federation has refused to suspend its events in China as it does not want to 'punish a billion people'

The International Tennis Federation has refused to suspend its events in China as it does not want to "punish a billion people".

The ITF, the governing body of tennis, will not follow in the footsteps of the Women’s Tennis Association and withdraw from all tournaments in China.

The WTA took such action last week amid fears over the safety of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.

Shuai, a former world number one doubles player, made sexual assault allegations against China’s former Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli, at the start of November.

The 35-year-old claimed she was coerced into having sex with Zhang, which began an on-off consensual relationship with the former Politburo Standing Committee member.

Peng’s post was deleted around 30 minutes after it was published, and she subsequently disappeared from public view for three weeks.

This sparked serious concern among the tennis community, with WTA chairman and chief executive Steve Simon demanding it be verifiably proved that Peng was safe and free.

When this did not happen, Simon made the decision to suspend all tournaments in China.

There is significant concern for the safety of Peng Shuai

ITF President David Haggerty told BBC Sport that he would not follow in Simon’s footsteps.

"As the governing body of tennis, we stand in support of all women's rights," he said.

"The allegations need to be looked into, and we will continue to work behind the scenes and directly to bring this to resolution.

"But 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 emphasised that Peng’s wellbeing was the ITF’s primary concern.

"We will continue to analyse the situation but we feel that growing grassroots and making tennis available is an important element," he said.

"We will continue those efforts in conjunction with the Chinese Tennis Association."

The WTA has been praised for suspending tournaments in China

The WTA has been widely praised for its stance, particularly because the governing body rely heavily on investment into its tour from China.

Although no events have been held in the country for the past two years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, nine WTA tournaments were held in China in 2019.

A lucrative long-term deal to move the season-ending WTA Finals to Shenzhen was also signed in 2019. This 10-year partnership doubled the prize pot at the tournament to $14 million (£10.5 million).

According to figures provided by the WTA, the total prize money on offer for the nine tournaments in China totalled $30.4 million (£22.8 million).

The ATP, which oversees men's tennis, has been criticised for not following the WTA's stance.

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