(Reuters) – The Atlanta Dream issued a statement on Wednesday in support of tennis player Peng Shuai, who was not seen in public for nearly three weeks after accusing China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
China’s treatment of the former doubles world number one prompted the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to pull its lucrative tournaments from the country last week.
The move drew praise from top sports figures including WTA founder Billie Jean King but little immediate public reaction from major North American teams and leagues, many of which are heavily invested in the country.
“The Atlanta Dream believes that protecting civil and human rights is a fundamental part of our core values,” the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) franchise tweeted on Wednesday.
“We do not condone violence or aggression towards women – or any human being – and will do all we can to protect female athletes in speaking out against such atrocities.”
Ownership of the WNBA is split between franchise owners and the National Basketball Association (NBA), which has drawn rebukes from Beijing in the past when members have voiced political positions on issues from Hong Kong to the Uyghur ethnic group.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Stephen Coates)