Few events have made a ripple in the world of tennis like the Peng Shuai saga. For once, the word saga is not an exaggeration because the situation has led to such drastic consequences for all parties involved that using any other word will not do full justice to the scope of events that have transpired.
At the time of writing this, the Peng Shuai saga is very much an ongoing situation, but we have tried our best to present every connected event that is a part of this development, and present the facts as they are.
Here's everything you need to know about the Peng Shuai story, starting with the obvious.
Who is Peng Shuai?
Peng Shuai is a professional tennis player from China, part of the WTA circuit since 2004. While she also plays singles matches, she is predominantly a doubles player.
She has two women's doubles Grand Slam titles to her name, the 2013 Wimbledon and the 2014 Roland Garros. During this period, Peng was ranked as the No.1 player in doubles.
She also won the 2013 WTA Finals with her partner Hseih Su-Wei from Taiwan, and thus became the first ever Chinese player to win a WTA year-end title.
Shuai has been a constant part of Grand Slams ever since her debut - right up until 2020, when she appeared at the Australian Open where she went out of the first round in both singles and doubles. That same year, she appeared at the Qatar Total Open in Doha which has been her final tournament appearance to date.
What happened to Peng Shuai?
On November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai took to her official Weibo account to share the full story. In it, Peng explained how Zhang Gaoli, the former Vice Premier of China, had committed sexual assault against her, the first time being over seven years ago.
Further, Peng elaborated that it continued 4 years later in 2018. The affair was rekindled, but Peng hoped Zhang would divorce his wife and marry her instead. When Zhang told her that it was impossible to do so because of the political consequences it would have for him, Peng decided to go public with the news.
Peng admitted she did not have any evidence of the same but stated that it made her feel awful about herself.
"Yes, I did not have any evidence, and it was simply impossible to have evidence," Peng Shuai wrote. "I couldn't describe how disgusted I was, and how many times I asked myself am I still a human?" she added.
Within half an hour, the post was removed from Weibo although screenshots had already begun to be circulated. Peng Shuai went into a period of total silence following this, which brings us to the next part.
The involvement of the WTA
After not hearing from Peng Shuai for 12 days after her social media post, the WTA decided to get involved.
In a released statement, Steve Simon, the CEO and chairman of the WTA, said that the WTA wanted the allegations to be investigated in as fair a manner as possible and professed solidarity with Peng Shuai.
"We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship," Steve Simon said.
This was followed by a similar statement from the ATP. Individual players took up the mantle afterwards, with major tennis players like Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Roger Federer and former legends like Billie Jean King taking to social media with the "WhereIsPengShuai" hashtag.
Peng Shuai's email and WTA's rebuttal
On 17 November, Peng Shuai allegedly penned an email to the WTA. In the email, the Chinese star promised that she was safe, her first allegations against Zhang were not true and that she had not indeed gone missing in the first place.
In it, Peng went on to attack the WTA, saying they acted without consulting her first and asked them to verify the veracity of events with her before making any future statements.
"If the WTA publishes any more news about me, please verify it with me, and release it with my consent," Peng Shuai wrote.
The email immediately had its doubters and many did not think an email alone could be taken as proof of Shuai's lingering safety concerns.
In another statement by the WTA on the same day, Steve Simon expressed his own doubts regarding the same and demanded more concrete proof.
"The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail," Simon said.
Photo evidence of Peng Shuai's safety and further WTA demands
Finally, on November 19, after demands from even Amnesty International and the U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights, the world was granted photo evidence of a safe Peng Shuai.
Journalist Hu Xijin shared videos of Peng at a restaurant through twitter, and then later at a kids' tennis tournament in China. But that alone was not enough for the WTA.
In their third statement, released on November 20, the organization stated that the video alone was not proof that Shuai was acting of her own accord. Furthermore, they restated that the allegations still needed to be dealt with fairly.
"As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug," Steve Simon said.
It was then that the WTA levied a warning to China, stating that their relationship was strained and that not looking into their concerns would have dire results.
"I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads," Simon added.
IOC's video call with Peng Shuai and WTA taking no hostages
On November 21, the IOC released a statement of their own, saying that they had spoken to Peng Shuai herself through a video call.
They did not share a recording of the video call and the statement contained just a solitary photo of Peng Shuai on the screen. But the IOC assured the world that she was safe and happy, and that she wanted her privacy respected.
This, unsurprisingly, received wide-spread criticism from around the world, with many calling the IOC's assurances hollow and accusing them of not looking into the core issues of the matter.
On December 3, the WTA released their final and most important statement regarding this issue. Once more, they reiterated how their demands for investigation were being ignored and that it made them scared for the safety of their athlete.
"Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way," Steve Simon said."
Thus, the WTA decided to suspend all tournaments in China (including Hong Kong) effective immediately, even if it would mean leaving behind tennis communities in the country.
"As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong," he added."
IOC's second video call, and ATP and ITF refuse to follow WTA
Around the same time, the IOC announced that they had a second video call with Peng Shuai, but refused to release a video or even pictures this time. They simply reconfirmed that she was safe and that they were monitoring the issue.
The ITF and ATP, however, did not follow the WTA in pulling out of china. The ATP stated that it believed having a global presence was beneficial for the sport and the ITF stated that it did not want to punish a billion people by following in the footsteps of the WTA.
Condemnation by the Chinese Tennis Association
Naturally, the WTA's decision was condemned by the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) who felt that they were acting against the best interests of other players in China and Peng Shui herself.
The CTA also said they would be looking into the legal side of the WTA pulling out of China, and that they have a right to protect their interests subject to the letter of the law.
That brings to an end everything that has occurred so far. As of now, the WTA will hold no events in China until the country decides to look into the allegations made by Peng Shuai. As of now, Peng Shuai is safe but only time will tell whether she is safe and free.
Also Check Out: Updated Tennis Schedule 2022