By Stewart Perrie
The Women's Tennis Association has cancelled $1 billion worth of matches and tournaments in China as former champion Peng Shuai remains missing.
The Wimbledon and French Open double's winner disappeared last month after making serious sexual assault allegations against a Chinese former high-ranking government official.
Global tennis officials have called on China to assure the world that Peng is safe and those efforts have kind of fallen on deaf ears.
As a result, the WTA has pulled loads of planned events in China to let the superpower know they mean business and want to see proof of life.
WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement: "Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way.
"While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.
"In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault," Simon said.
"Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022."
Peng Shuai posted on her Weibo account that she was 'forced' into sexual relations with former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
He served as the country's Vice Premier between 2013 and 2018 and was a close ally of China's leader Xi Jinping.
The social media post was taken down quickly and then Peng mysteriously vanished.
Big-name tennis stars and officials called for China to allow an uncensored investigation into Peng's claims and they also wanted to see that she was safe and well.
An email was released from China's state-owned television broadcaster CGTN last month claiming to be from Shuai, and it insisted she was alive, safe and that the allegation against Mr Zhang is 'not true'.
"Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai," the email allegedly written by Shuai said. "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 am I unsafe. I've just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me."
However, not everyone was buying it and WTA chief Steve Simon said he had 'a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her'.
Featured Image Credit: PA
Topics: Tennis news, Australia, China