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Maria Sharapova delivers emphatic opinion on Peng Shuai scandal (VIDEO)

Tennis legend Maria Sharapova has become the latest high-profile name to voice her opinion after the WTA withdrew events from China over fears for Peng Shuai, the player who many believe is being coerced by authorities.

The eyes of the world have been on the escalating saga around Peng, whose only public appearances since she made swiftly-removed accusations against a former government official have been supplied by state-affiliated media.

Superstars of the women’s game have called for a full investigation into Peng’s welfare and the sexual abuse claims that were briefly visible on her social media, including Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.

Despite their influential support, few would have expected Steve Simon, the boss of the WTA, to pull events entirely from China, which is thought to be the strongest-growing market for the game.

Proud of Steve Simon and the @WTA for following through…hoping the rest of the powers of tennis, other sports, and even businesses follow suit….Now, let’s concentrate on finding Peng Shuai… https://t.co/H06teH4M6v

— Chris Evert (@ChrissieEvert) December 2, 2021

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” Simon said in the bombshell announcement last week, admitting to “serious doubts” that Peng is “free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.”

“The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation,” he added.

“If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback.”

Former world number one Sharapova has now responded to Simon’s demands and offered her backing to the WTA’s bold move.

“She was a colleague and a rival of mine,” the winner of five Grand Slam titles told CNBC.

Maria #Sharapova: “I hope and pray that she(Peng Shuai) her family are safe and well”
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(🎥 CNBC Via @TennisTerrasse)#FreePengShuai #WhereIsPengShuai pic.twitter.com/6vI3datsCv

— Sharapova News (@NewsSharapova) December 6, 2021

Well said, @MariaSharapova . Standing up for what is right over the #PengShuai debacle. #WTA

— Richard Ingham Evans (@Ringham7) December 7, 2021

“I obviously hope and pray that she and her family are safe and well. I’ve actually been incredibly impressed by how the the WTA has stood up and taken a stance.

“It was an organization that I’d been a part of for many years, so seeing Steve Simon do the right thing has been wonderful.

“I think of people before I think of business. I think of the human element and the human aspect. That’s why I’m in complete support of the tour.”

Peng’s accusations were made against Zhang Gaoli, a high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party before his recent retirement.

The 35-year-old ex-doubles champion outlined a harrowing alleged campaign of abuse and manipulation by Zhang, now 75, lasting several years.

The International Tennis Federation said this week that it will not axe tournaments in China because it does not want to “publish a billion people”.

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