ITF President David Haggerty said the governing body would continue to "work behind the scenes" in response to the Peng Shuai situation ©Getty Images

International Tennis Federation (ITF) President David Haggerty has insisted "we don’t want to punish a billion people" by suspending all tournaments in China in response to concerns over the wellbeing of former world doubles number one Peng Shuai.

Haggerty stressed that the worldwide governing body supported women’s rights but refused to follow the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) lead by halting all events in the Asian nation.

Peng has engaged in video calls with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but it has failed to alleviate the WTA’s concerns of the welfare of the Chinese tennis player who had not been in public for weeks after making allegations of sexual assault against China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.

WTA chairman and chief executive Steve Simon claimed Peng had "seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault" and added that he was “greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022".

But Haggerty told the BBC that the ITF - which runs the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup as well as the Olympic and Paralympic tournaments - had no plans to suspend events in China.

"As the governing body of tennis, we stand in support of all women's rights," said Haggerty.

"The allegations [of Peng] need to be looked into, and we will continue to work behind the scenes and directly to bring this to resolution.

"But you have to remember that the ITF is the governing body of the sport worldwide, and one of the things that we are responsible for is grassroots development.

"We don't want to punish a billion people, so we will continue to run our junior events in the country and our senior events that are there for the time being."

Peng Shuai has made allegations of sexual assault against China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli ©Getty Images
Peng Shuai has made allegations of sexual assault against China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli ©Getty Images

The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) - which organises the men’s tour - has also decided against stopping events taking place in China.

"The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport," said ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.

"The response to those concerns has so far fallen short. 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."

The ATP’s stance has been criticised by leading figures within tennis including former men’s world number one Andy Roddick who said "how to say a lot of words and say nothing" in a post on social media.

Eighteen-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova tweeted: "Are we to understand that the ATP would have made the same statement had the player been a male?

"Somehow I think not."

Current players have also hit out at the ATP, with Britain’s Liam Broady describing the body’s statement as "full of fluff" while American Tennys Sandgren said the organisation’s leadership was a "complete disaster".

Peng alleged on Chinese social media website Weibo on November 2 that Zhang, a former senior vice-premier and high-ranking member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, had sexually assaulted her 10 years ago, before they had an on-off extra-marital affair.

Andy Roddick has criticised the ATP's decision not to follow the WTA's lead in suspending its tournaments in China ©Getty Images
Andy Roddick has criticised the ATP's decision not to follow the WTA's lead in suspending its tournaments in China ©Getty Images

The post was removed within 20 minutes, not reported on in China, and Peng was reportedly not seen for more than two weeks.

Chinese state media insisted she was safe after the WTA and several leading players expressed concern, publishing an email that was claimed to come from Peng but was widely dismissed as being fabricated.

Images and videos of Peng, including one where someone off-camera is at pains to mention the date, were also published before the three-time Olympian's call with Bach.

The IOC has been accused of prioritising the upcoming Winter Olympics - due to be held in Chinese capital Beijing - over the welfare of Peng.

Zhang was at one stage the leader of a State Council working group overseeing Beijing 2022 preparations and has been pictured with Bach, leading some to further question the organisation's impartiality.

Human rights groups were calling for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics to be moved from China even before the Peng case shone a new light on the Government's intolerance of dissent.

In Xinjiang, China has been accused of using forced Uyghur labour, operating a mass surveillance programme, detaining thousands in internment camps, carrying out forced sterilisations and intentionally destroying Uyghur heritage.

Beijing claims the camps are training centres designed to stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism, and denies the charges laid against it.