The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China, amid concern about tennis player Peng Shuai, after she accused a Chinese official of sexual assault.
Ping, 35, disappeared from public view for three weeks after her announcement.
China issued a statement in October, saying, “People should stop willfully and maliciously misleading (the issue), let alone politicizing this issue.”
WTA president Steve Simon said he had “serious doubts” that Ping was “free, safe, and not subject to intimidation”.
“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask athletes to compete there,” he added.
The association has repeatedly called for a full investigation into Ping’s allegations.
There was widespread concern for Peng, after she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
She said she was “fine and well” during a video call with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, in November.
But the association said the video was “insufficient evidence” of Bing’s safety.
In a lengthy statement, Simon said he was “extremely concerned” about the risks players and staff could face if events were held in China in 2022.
“The leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” he added.
“If powerful people can suppress women’s voices and cover up allegations of sexual assault, the foundation on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer a massive setback.”
“I will not and cannot allow this to happen to the League and its players,” he added.
The suspension also includes tournaments in Hong Kong.
Former world number one Billie John King, founder of the association, praised the organization for taking a strong stand.
“This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is a leader in women’s sports,” King wrote on Twitter.
“The WTA is on the right side of history in supporting our players.”
Several players, including two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and US Open quarter-finalist Shelby Rogers, tweeted in support of the WTA’s decision.
Representative Julian Knight, who chairs the selection committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, said he welcomed the situation, adding, “if only other sports would show this solidarity and moral clarity.”
There have been no WTA events in China over the past two years due to the coronavirus epidemic.
However, the governing body has relied heavily on Chinese investment for its tour in recent years, which has led to a number of lucrative tournaments being held in the country.
‘A case bigger than business’
China hosted nine tournaments in the 2019 season, including the WTA Finals.
Simon told BBC Sports he was concerned about the financial implications of not playing in China, but that Bing’s case was “bigger than business”.
“This is something we simply cannot give up,” he added.
“If we walk away from what we’ve asked for, what we’re telling the world is that not treating sexual assault with the respect and seriousness that it takes is okay, and it’s not… It’s just something we can’t allow to happen.”
Ping, the former world number one in doubles, wrote on Chinese social media site Weibo that she was forced to have a sexual relationship with Zhang.
She deleted the post minutes later, and it did not appear in public for some time.
Several tennis players have used the hashtag WhereisPengShuai (Where Peng Shuai) on Twitter to draw attention to the issue.
Zhang Gaoli, who retired from his government position in 2018, has yet to address the allegations.
Simon told the BBC he would not ask the ATP to take a similar position in the men’s match, but added that the board supported their position.
“I don’t think (the ATP) is undermining our position,” he added.
“Our position is about what is best for the WTA and we will stick to that position. Others will make the decisions that they think are right for them.”
He added that he still hoped the Chinese authorities would take steps to “legitimately address Ping’s allegations”.
“I am very sorry that it has come to this point, but the leaders of China have left the WTA with no choice,” Simon added.
“Unless China takes the steps we have requested, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China,” he added.
The 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics are scheduled to be held in Beijing in February and March.