Tennis: 'We're putting humans over money' - Erin Routliffe backs WTA over Peng Shuai decision

Tennis: 'We're putting humans over money' - Erin Routliffe backs WTA over Peng Shuai decision

New Zealand’s top-ranked women’s doubles player Erin Routliffe has lauded the WTA’s “incredible” decision to pull tournaments out of China in the wake of the Peng Shuai allegations.

The women’s tour has suspended its operations in China and Hong Kong, affecting 11 tournaments including the season-ending WTA Finals that were scheduled to be held in Shenzhen until 2030.

WTA chief executive Steve Simon remains concerned about the safety of Shuai, the former world No 1 doubles player who accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a November social media post. It was removed by officials after 20 minutes and there has been virtually no mention of Shuai in China since.

Simon released a statement that followed through on earlier threats to pull the WTA out of a China – at a cost estimated to be around $1 billion – if there was not a “full and transparent investigation without censorship, coercion and intimidation”.

Simon said: “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.

“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.”

Routliffe, who has climbed to No 55 in the WTA doubles rankings this year, was taken back by Simon’s strong stance.

“It’s incredible. I guess it’s the definition of putting your money where your mouth is, and I think it’s even more impressive because the WTA is definitely not one of the wealthiest sports organisations in the world,” Routliffe told the Herald.

“Obviously the WTA needs money, always needs money and is not super wealthy. So for him to come out and say human rights and humans being safe is more important than the money is amazing.

“He was saying it a couple weeks ago, but to confirm it I think is very, very impressive. And I think all players are pretty proud of it.”

Tennis: 'We're putting humans over money' - Erin Routliffe backs WTA over Peng Shuai decision

Kiwi Erin Routliffe has backed the WTA over its decision. Photo / Getty

Routliffe said the Shuai story first broke when the Kiwi was at her last tournament of the season in Austria last month.

“When she did disappear, and they didn’t let her speak freely, it’s just insane,” Routliffe said. “There was definitely some talk among the players and we’re all just scared and surprised about it. So I am hoping that she can come out and talk and be safe soon.”

Routliffe suspected many players would not have travelled to China for WTA events if they had been on the calendar next year.

“It’s good that the difficult decision has been made by the organisation as a whole rather than the players having to make this decision and not necessarily agreeing with the WTA if they were to continue to have tournaments, because that would have been a conflict,” she said.

“It’s really all we could have asked for, in the sense of putting humans before money, which is what everyone should do.”

Routliffe is confident the WTA will come up with viable alternatives to the Chinese tournaments in 2022.

“There are a lot of countries that have recently stepped up and fill the gap,” she said. “I think it will be difficult for them financially but am hoping they can replace almost all of them.”

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