Squash stars Peng Shuai and Zhong Xiuwen pulled from national Open as their punishment for doping allegations

(L-R) Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, captain of the England Women’s team Heather Watson, and squash player Katherine Grainger attend a news conference in London in May. (Simon Dawson/AP Photo)

The ITF’s two-month suspension of Chinese players Zhong Xiuwen and Peng Shuai will only include the National Open, the ITF announced on Wednesday, blocking all other events scheduled for China in the championship window. China intends to submit a complaint against the ITF, claiming the suspension is unlawful.

The recent decision to suspend the pair from the World Professional squash Championships was made as part of the ITF’s ongoing investigation into doping violations. But the ITF says it was not spurred on by any interference with this particular case, but is simply exercising the mechanism to protect the integrity of the game.

“It is purely unfortunate that the ITF has reached this point, but this is one of a number of such events that have been suspended in recent years,” ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said in a statement. “We simply do not want to punish millions of people who are being unfairly affected by this.”

The National Open is scheduled to take place from June 5-23, when it was expected that Peng and Zhong would be competing. All the other China events that the ITF has decided to shut down are mostly regional tournaments, including the Sheik Zayed Squash championship, the Shanghai Masters and the Asian Junior Championships. Some have speculated that the ITF’s suspension is more of a precautionary measure, rather than a direct reaction to the issue of doping.

An independent arbitration body has started looking into the case. The ITF did not say whether it would suspend any other Chinese players who are due to play between now and August, but Zhong’s case appears to be the only one where the two athletes have been formally suspended.

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