Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has been suspended from the WTA Tour after she became the latest athlete to make an allegation of sexual assault. Peng was forced to watch helplessly as many of her Chinese peers criticized her for accusing U.S. college tennis player Lyudmyla Kichenok of rape last week.
In a statement on Thursday, the WTA said it had suspended Peng “for having taken inappropriate action in her personal life, including publicly disclosing private sexual assault allegations.” Peng’s friends and family members, they noted, tried to censor comments on the issue.
“While the WTA respects the personal and private lives of its professional athletes, it expects the respect and consideration of all those who watch, follow and follow its tournaments,” the statement said.
Peng’s comments were reminiscent of those made by Maria Sharapova, the most high-profile athlete to be accused of a sex crime, in 2004. It was then that Sharapova, who was 20 years old at the time, was suspended for two years. She was accused of being involved in a romantic relationship with an unnamed practice partner, who was then 18 years old, who then took off with the young man’s girlfriend.
“Everybody knows how I feel about that experience,” Sharapova said at the time. “I was 20 years old. It was my first experience with love and what it’s like to be living the life of a young, normal girl at that time and it was ruined for me for years.”
Peng said she met Kichenok while they were competing in the United States for an event last week. She said she dined and drinks with him and he then kissed her and forced her to have oral sex. She said she ran away from him, leaving behind her phone, credit cards and passport. He’s since been kicked off the team and lost his job as a tennis professional.
The case hasn’t become a point of pride in China, though. Many have opposed what they see as Peng’s attempts to gain a public celebrity by shaming a fellow person. Kichenok’s relatives came to the China Tennis Association’s defense, saying they felt “shame” for her.
That has prompted a backlash in a nation that had an unprecedented feminist movement in the 1990s. Some online commentators have taken issue with Peng’s statement that Kichenok assaulted her and said that she actually displayed insufficient personal traits in the investigation.
While the timing of the Peng’s statement could not have been worse for her, many comments on social media pointed out that she’s only one tennis player in a sport that has also been plagued by allegations of sexual abuse.
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