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6 Dec, 2021 09:58

ITF won’t axe events in China over Peng Shuai scandal because it would ‘punish a billion people’

ITF won’t axe events in China over Peng Shuai scandal because it would ‘punish a billion people’

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will not follow the WTA's shock step of suspending events in China over Peng Shuai, earning derision from critics after claiming that pulling tournaments would "punish a billion people".

In arguably the most drastic move it could have made, the ATP last week called off tournaments in China – thought to be its fastest-growing market – because of concerns over the former doubles champion's safety following serious allegations of sexual abuse made by her against a senior ex-politician.

State media sources for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have released a series of dubious photos and videos showing Peng since her accusations abruptly disappeared and the 35-year-old seemed to vanish from public view.

WTA chief Steve Simon voiced "serious doubts" that Peng is "free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation", calling for a "full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation."

Governing body the ITF will not be following suit despite president David Haggerty insisting his organization continues to support women's rights.

"The allegations need to be looked into," said Haggerty, speaking to BBC Sport about the gut-wrenching original post from Peng that was taken down in minutes after claiming that China's former vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, had subjected her to years of manipulation including attempting to force her to have sex with him.

"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."

That outlook drew derision from some. "So the ITF does not want to 'hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," wrote one law and human rights group on Twitter.

"Where do these morons get their PR people? Can they be this oblivious and stupid? Why are you echoing CCP talking points when making these statements?"

China has responded to the scandal surrounding Peng by saying that campaigners are making unfounded claims and politicizing sports.

No further reference to the allegations has been made by Peng in any of her public appearances, which included a film in a restaurant in which clunky references to the date were repeatedly made and an outing to a tournament.

"We will continue to analyze the situation but we feel that growing grassroots and making tennis available is an important element," emphasized Haggerty.

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

Retired Zhang, 75, is yet to comment on the allegations.