WTA boss ‘willing to pull business out of China’ as pressure mounts over missing Peng Shuai

China's Peng Shuai in action

WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon has taken a firm stance on the disappearance of Peng Shuai, saying “this is bigger than the business”.

Former world No 1 doubles player Peng has not been seen publicly since she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former member of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, of coercing her into sex before they had an on-off consensual relationship.

The 35-year-old published a post about the alleged sexual assault on the social media platform Weibo two weeks ago, but it was deleted almost immediately and she has not been seen since.

‘Devastated’ Serena Williams as well as Gerard Pique the latest to ask ‘Where is Peng Shuai’

On Wednesday a letter purportedly from Peng appeared on Chinese state media, saying: “Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent.

“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor I am unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”

However, Simon hit back in a press release questioning the letter’s validity.

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” he said.

The likes of Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Naomi Osaka have all joined the #WhereIsPengShuai movement on social media and in an interview on Thursday Simon made it clear that the WTA is willing to withdraw from China.

“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” he told CNN.

“Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business. Women need to be respected and not censored.”

He added: “We’re at a crossroads with our relationship, obviously, with China and operating our business over there.

“We’ve had a lot of success over there. I think when you look at this, though, there‘s too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this that we let business, politics, money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong.”