WTA restores Chinese events to Tour, despite continued inability to contact Peng Shuai
The WTA says its players and members are in favour of the move
The WTA will return to China for the first time since 2021 despite no change in the lack of assurances over the safety of Peng Shuai.
After several media outlets, including the New York Times and the BBC, reported the news on Thursday, the WTA confirmed the decision in an emailed statement, saying its players and members supported the move.
Zhengzhou, Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanchang, Hong Kong and Wuhan will return to the calendar, as will the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai; while the New York Times said the lucrative WTA Finals will return to Shenzhen until 2031.
The WTA cancelled events in China in 2021 in the wake of the case of former Chinese player Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing, on social media, a former government official of sexual assault. Though Peng later retracted her statement, she was then uncontactable.
In response, the WTA led by its CEO Steve Simon, said tournaments would not return until they were assured of Peng’s safety and would be able to contact her independently. However, on Thursday, Simon told various media outlets that he believed they would not be able to get those assurances, however long they waited. In the interim, Peng has been seen only in a couple of seemingly carefully stage-managed videos, though Simon told the New York Times they had been told Peng was living with family.
“We’re currently convinced that the requests that we put forth are not going to be met,” the New York Times quoted Simon as saying. “And, with that, to continue with the same strategy doesn’t seem to make sense, and we need a different approach.
“Our members believe it’s time to resume our mission in China, where we believe we can continue to make a positive difference, as I think we have over the last 20 years when we’ve been there, while at the same time making sure that Peng is not forgotten and that we can, by returning, make some progress.”
Steve Simon denies money was the overriding factor
The 10-year agreement with Shenzhen to host the WTA Finals was enormously valuable to the WTA Tour. The winner of the first final, in 2019, Ash Barty received a record tennis payout in 2019, while overall prize money was $14 million.
Simon denied their decision to restore the Chinese events was because of money.
“This decision wasn’t made based upon the Finals deal in any way, shape or form,” Simon told The New York Times. “It was based upon what was in the best interest of the organisation, and we felt this was in that best interest. Will it be good for our balance sheet and those types of things, yes it will, but that wasn’t the basis for the decision.”