WTA to return to China; Peng ‘awaits justice’



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WTA will return to China Image: Coliseum GSVA

In 2021, when the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai bravely came forward in context with sexual advances made towards her by a top People’s Republic of China functionary, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) took a stance and suspended its operation of events in China out of concern for her safety and the safety of the WTA players and staff.

‘wtatennis.com’ stated that when the WTA moved forward with the above decision, they were not sure if others would join them. The WTA received much praise for their principled stand and believed they sent a powerful message to the world. But praise alone is insufficient to bring about change.

St. Petersburg (US)-based the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is the principal organizing body of women’s professional tennis. It governs the WTA Tour which is the worldwide professional tennis tour for women and was founded to create a better future for women’s tennis.

It may be recalled that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) drew criticism on December 2nd, 2021 from China for its decision to suspend all tournaments in the nation, out of concern for the well-being of star player Peng Shuai and the safety of other players as Shuai had leveled sexual assault charges against the former Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhang Gaoli. The WTA had then said it wanted assurances of her well-being and had sought an investigation.

Peng Shuai is a Chinese tennis player. In February 2014, she was ranked world No. 1 doubles player by the WTA, becoming the first Chinese tennis player to achieve that ranking. She peaked at No. 14 of the singles rankings in August 2011, and won two singles and 23 doubles titles on the WTA Tour. She retired in 2022.

‘wtatennis.com’ further stated that after 16 months of suspended tennis competition in China and sustained efforts at achieving the WTA’s original requests (the WTA had said it wanted assurances of her well-being and had sought an investigation), the situation has shown no sign of changing. The WTA concluded that they will never fully secure those goals, and it will be their players and tournaments that ultimately will be paying an extraordinary price for their sacrifices.

For the above reasons, the WTA is lifting its suspension of the operation of tournaments in the People’s Republic of China (‘PRC’) and will resume tournaments in China this September.

Through WTA’s time and commitment in China over the past 20 years, the WTA has made significant progress in creating a pathway and opportunity for women athletes to pursue tennis as a career and for tennis to become a focus of recreational activity in the country. With the suspension, the WTA had forfeited its ability to provide women in the region with opportunities to advance professionally through tennis and be role models for the future generations.

The WTA have not been able to achieve everything it set out for, but have been in touch with people close to Peng and are assured she is living safely with her family in Beijing. The WTA have also received assurances that the WTA players and staff operating in China will be safe and protected while in the country. The WTA takes this commitment seriously and will hold all parties responsible.

While the WTA does not regret its decision on the suspension, the WTA and its members feel that now is the time to return to its mission in China. They are hopeful that by returning more progress can be made.

Peng cannot be forgotten through this process. It is important that the WTA’s renewed engagement in China provides continued safety for Peng and all the women athletes who will benefit from their return to competition and the opportunities tennis provides. It is essential that women’s voices must be heard when speaking out. The WTA will continue to advocate for Peng and the advancement of women around the world.

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