ATP criticized for Peng Shuai response: 'How to say a lot of words and say nothing'

China's Peng Shuai. (Andy Brownbill/AP)

The Association of Tennis Professionals has come under fire from several high-profile members of the tennis community for its response to the situation surrounding Peng Shuai, whose safety has been a pressing concern in the global sports community since she accused a senior leader of China’s ruling party of sexual assault and subsequently disappeared from public view.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the ATP said the situation raised "serious concerns" within and beyond the sport of tennis but stopped short of committing to any action against China.

"The response to those concerns has so far fallen short," the ATP said. "We again urge for a line of open direct communication between the player and the WTA in order to establish a clearer picture of her situation. We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact. We will continue to consult with our members and monitor any developments as this issue evolves."

The ATP's statement came on the heels of the Women's Tennis Association's landmark decision to suspend its events in China until sufficient reassurances had been made about Peng's well-being, a move that could cost the WTA millions and was widely lauded for prioritizing people over profits.

The discrepancy between the responses of the ATP and WTA was noted by global tennis stars, many of whom had previously lent their voice to the intensifying outcry over Peng's disappearance more than a month ago after saying on social media that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier of China, sexually assaulted her, coupled with the country’s subsequent efforts to censor any mention of her allegations.

"Are we to understand that the ATP would have made the same statement had the player been a male?" Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam champion, wrote on Twitter. "An atp tour pro?!? Somehow I think not. #embarrassing"

The criticism came from the men's side of the tennis community, too.

Andy Roddick, the former No. 1 ranked player in the world who won the 2003 U.S. Open, said the ATP statement was an example of "how to say a lot of words and say nothing."

Others joined him. Mardy Fish, a former pro who was one of several American tennis players who rose to prominence in the early 2000s, quote-tweeted the ATP's statement, saying simply: "That's a statement?" While Tennys Sandgren, who climbed as high as No. 41 in the ATP singles ranking in 2019, noted the players can only do so much if the governing body representing them fails to act.

"It's important to understand that we as the players are completely handcuffed in our ability to act as a collective," Sandgren wrote. "And our leadership from the @atptour is complete dumpster."

Liam Broady, the current British No. 4 player, didn't mince words in his critique of the ATP but also took aim at the International Olympic Committee's response.

"Absolutely embarrassing," Broady wrote on Twitter. "Not surprised in the slightest by the IOC response but @atptour response equally full of fluff."

Broady has been a vocal presence on Twitter throughout the Peng situation, previously questioning why the discourse surrounding her whereabouts had gone silent at the end of November.

Broady's mentioning of the IOC comes after the Committee said on Thursday it held a second video call with Peng.

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