Peng has not been seen outside of China since making, and then withdrawing, accusations of sexual assault against a high-ranking official. Professional women’s tennis tournaments will resume in China in September, the WTA announced on Thursday, following a 16-month boycott over concerns for the safety of Chinese player Peng Shuai.
The former world number one in doubles has not been seen outside of China since making, and then withdrawing, sexual assault allegations against a high-ranking official.
“In 2021, when Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai bravely came forward, the WTA took a stance and suspended its operation of events in China out of concern for her safety and the safety of our players and staff,” the statement stated.
However, the WTA, which governs women’s professional tennis, conceded that its “principled stand… a powerful message to the world” had failed to “bring about change.”
“The situation has shown no sign of changing after 16 months of suspended tennis competition in China and sustained efforts to achieve our original requests,” the WTA said.
“We have concluded that we will never fully secure those goals, and that our players and tournaments will ultimately pay a high price for their sacrifices.”
“For these reasons, the WTA is lifting its suspension of tournament operations in the People’s Republic of China and will resume tournaments in China this September.”
“We have not been able to achieve everything we set out to achieve,” the WTA stated, “but we have been in touch with people close to Peng and are confident she is living safely with her family in Beijing.”
“We have also received assurances that WTA players and staff operating in China will be safe and secure.” The WTA takes this pledge seriously and will keep all parties accountable.”
- ‘RESOLUTION IS REQUIRED’ – In January, the WTA demanded a “formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities, as well as an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng privately to discuss her situation.”
“While we have always stated that we hope to be able to operate WTA events in the region again, we will not compromise our founding principles in order to do so,” it declared at the time.
“A return to the region will necessitate a resolution to the Peng Shuai situation, in which Peng took a brave step in publicly alleging sexual assault by a senior Chinese government leader.”
Peng, a former world doubles champion, claimed in a social media post that a former Chinese vice-premier coerced her into sex during a multi-year relationship, but she has subsequently denied accusing anyone of sexual assault and described the scenario as a “huge misunderstanding.”
China has contributed significantly to the WTA’s earnings over the last decade, and the association has incurred significant financial losses when Chinese tournaments were initially cancelled due to Covid-19 in 2020.
Because of the WTA’s decision to return, the latter phases of the women’s tennis season will once again centre on China.
The season-ending WTA Finals will renew their 10-year partnership with the city of Shenzhen.
Caroline Garcia, the world number five, explained why the WTA was making a “very important” return to China.
“The ATP and the ITF (International Tennis Federation) were already going back, and women’s tennis is following,” she explained to the BBC.
“We’ve had some huge tournaments over there in the past, and I think it’s an important swing for us in our calendar, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Covid epidemic has severely affected sports in China.
The ATP men’s tennis circuit suspended its tournaments there, but with the country now emerging from rigorous anti-Covid measures, four men’s tournaments are set to be conducted in China this year, from September to October, in Chengdu, Zhuhai, Beijing, and Shanghai.
The Winter Olympics were hosted in Beijing in 2022, but in an unusual ‘closed loop,’ with participants, coaches, personnel, and media members locked off from the Chinese people.
Peng made a brief appearance as a spectator at those Olympics.
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