ITF declines to suspend play in China amid Peng Shuai safety concerns: ‘We don’t want to punish a billion people’

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will not suspend play in China amid safety concerns for Peng Shuai after she alleged sexual assault by a former Chinese government official.

ITF president David Haggerty told BBC Sport on Sunday the organization’s responsibility for “grassroots development” of the sport resulted in the governing body’s decision.

“The allegations need to be looked into, and we will continue to work behind the scenes and directly to bring this to resolution,” Haggerty told BBC Sport. “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.”

Peng, 35, has not been seen publicly in three weeks since claiming on Nov. 2 that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, forced her to have sex with him. According to the post, which was deleted minutes after it was posted, Zhang assaulted Peng at his home three years ago while his wife guarded the door.

Chinese state media released an email on Nov. 17 — purportedly from Peng — in which she said the initial allegation was released by the WTA and was made without her knowledge or consent. Many expressed doubt that the email actually came from Peng. A few days later, she appeared in a Zoom conference call on Nov. 21 to tell IOC officials that she was safe and well.

MORE: Former tennis pros criticize ATP for not halting play in China with Peng Shuai safety concerns continuing

The Women’s Tennis Association, the principal organizing body of women’s professional tennis, announced on Wednesday that it would suspend all tennis events in China until the safety of Peng Shuai is confirmed.

The ITF will not follow the WTA’s example; neither will the ATP, the governing men’s professional tennis circuits. The former governing body has received extensive criticism by former players for not following the WTA’s example.

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