WTA will not return to China as Peng Shuai safety concerns remain

Peng Shuai

The WTA Tour will not host any tournaments in China in 2022 as they continue to work to find a resolution over Peng Shuai’s current situation.

The former doubles world number one raised concerns last November when she accused China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

Shortly after Peng made the claim — which was posted on social media website Weibo — the post was deleted and the tennis star disappeared from the public eye for three weeks.

A month after Peng’s disappearance, the WTA pulled all of its scheduled tournaments in China, a decision expected to cost the Tour hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship and broadcast deals.

Peng has since been seen at public events, but the last time an appearance was reported was at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

“We remain dedicated to finding a resolution to this,” WTA CEO Steve Simon told The Tennis Podcast. “We want to find a resolution that Peng can be comfortable with, the Chinese government can be comfortable with, and we can be comfortable with.

“We are not about walking away from China. We have suspended our operations there right now. We will continue to do that until we get to a resolution.”

Peng Shuai

What happened to Peng Shuai?

Peng’s claims against Gaoli were removed mere minutes after being uploaded to Weibo — China’s version of Twitter. The platform deleted her post and also blocked users from searching her name, or even the word ‘tennis’ on the site.

Shortly after, the 23-time doubles tournament winner fell silent for a number of weeks, leading to widespread concern.

During the period of silence, the only form of contact that purportedly came from Peng was a  a “dubious” letter claiming the sexual assault accusations made did not come from the tennis star.

Following Peng’s disappearance from the public eye, a number of players both past and present urged for answers on her whereabouts and wellbeing.

The likes of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka joined the #WhereIsPengShuai movement on social media and once the world was talking about her, Peng reappeared in public.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach held a video call with the 36-year-old and she claimed she was safe and at home but “would like to have her privacy respected.”

WTA CEO Simon also attempted to make contact with Peng but feared her responses were clearly “influenced by others” and that she was “not free from censorship or coercion.”

China’s foreign ministry declined to view the situation as a political matter and told the public to stop any “malicious hyping” over Peng’s safety.

Despite the tennis star appearing at the Winter Olympics as a spectator, concerns remain as she has not been seen or heard from since.

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai looks on during the Women’s Freestyle Skiing Freeski Big Air Final on Day 4 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Big Air Shougang on February 08, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

“We have not had any recent communication with Peng and the world has not seen Peng since the Olympics either,” Simon said. “I don’t think you will make change in this world by walking away from issues. You have to create change.

“We will stay resolute. We do hope to be back there in 2023 with the resolution that shows progress was made in the space. That’s a victory for the world if we can accomplish that.”

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