CHINA: In reversing a decision taken out of concern for Peng Shuai’s safety, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) declared on Thursday that it would resume matches in China this year. The WTA cited the “extraordinary price” on players as the rationale for the move.
After Peng claimed that a senior former Chinese government official Zhang Gaoli had sexually abused her, the WTA earned a lot of appreciation for stopping its tournaments there. The organisation that oversees women’s tennis issued a statement after 16 months of China’s tennis competition being halted and consistent efforts to meet their original requirements.
They concluded that the situation had shown no sign of changing and that it would be the players and tournaments who would bear the cost of their efforts.
Due to these factors, the WTA is removing its ban on PRC tournaments and will resume staging them there in September.
Concerned about Peng’s safety, the WTA decided to postpone events in China in response to her post, which cost the tour hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship.
The decision comes as men’s tennis gears up to return to China later in 2023 after a gap due to COVID-19. The WTA suffered eight-figure losses in 2020 and 2021 but not as much last year. As part of its Asia swings this year, the ATP Tour will host four events, including the Shanghai Masters, for a combined total of more than $16 million.
The WTA Tour held nine tournaments in China in 2019, with a $30.4 million prize pool. An update is expected shortly after Thursday’s announcement. A preliminary 2023 tournament calendar released last year showed events up to September, but there was no clarification on those events.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has praised the WTA’s statement that competing in China is secure for athletes, their families, and their teams. David Haggerty, the president of the organisation, said that they had been assured that travelling to China to compete is secure for players, their families, and their teams. Peng Shuai appears to be in good health and safety, but the ITF will continue to look for confirmation of her continued safety.
The WTA’s decision is a disappointment to the Chinese human rights community, but Yaqiu Wang, the senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, is not surprised. She commends the WTA for its initial position but acknowledges the risk and track record of foreign companies in front of the Chinese government.
Peng’s last public appearance was at Beijing Olympics, last year and the WTA had kept in touch with her family and received assurances that she was safe in Beijing.
“The safety and well-being of WTA athletes and staff members, while they are in China, has also been assured to us. The WTA takes this role seriously and will hold all parties accountable,” WTA added.
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