The WTA is set to return to China, ending its boycott despite continued concerns for the safety of former player Peng Shuai.
WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon originally implemented the boycott in late 2021 due to the public disappearance of Peng, who had made sexual assault accusations against a high-ranking Chinese government official. All WTA tournaments pulled out of the country as a result.
Peng later rolled back those allegations and made a few public appearances – including meeting with members of the International Olympic Committee. But she has not been seen in public since the Beijing Olympics in February 2022.
Still, Simon told the Associated Press that the WTA has “received assurances from people who are close to her, that we’ve been in contact with, that she is safe and living with her family in Beijing.”
Conditions of the boycott – which were that someone from the tour was able to meet with Peng, and that a full and transparent investigation was conducted into the Grand Slam doubles champion’s accusations – were never met. But Simon told the AP that input from player and tournament representatives led to the decision to return to China.
“The stance that we took at the time was appropriate. And we stand by that. But 16 months into this, we’re convinced that our requests will not be met. And to continue with the same strategy doesn’t make sense,” Simon said. “So we needed to look at a different approach.
“With this, our members believe it’s time to resume the mission in China, where we believe we can continue to make a positive difference, as we have for the last 20 years, while at the same time making sure that Peng is not forgotten. By returning, hopefully more progress can be made.”
Additionally, the WTA has been assured by the Chinese Tennis Association that players will not have issues when competing within the country.
He called the change in course “an organizational decision.” He also noted that “the great majority of the athletes were supportive and wanted to see a return and felt it was time to go back.”
The tour schedule in China is set to be announced in the coming weeks, beginning in September and will include the season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen.