WTA urged to keep Peng Shuai case in focus as women’s tennis returns to China after boycott

The WTA, which called for a formal investigation into Peng’s allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity to meet her privately, conceded in April the situation had shown no sign of changing as it announced its return.

China’s Peng Shuai at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Photo: Reuters

“While it was a huge disappointment that the WTA decided to resume its tournaments in China without reaching a resolution on Peng’s freedom, the case and cause isn’t totally lost,” Yaqiu Wang, China research director at Freedom House told Reuters.

“Players and WTA officials still have their chance to speak out, now in China. In meetings with Chinese officials and in public appearances, they should talk about Peng’s case.

“ … If players don’t feel safe speaking up when they’re in China, they should certainly do after their trip. And as for the WTA, it should keep pressing the case robustly and publicly.”

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China was central to the WTA Tour’s aggressive expansion into Asia and it had staged nine tournaments with a total prize purse of US$30.4 million there in 2019, which was its last full year of operations in the country.

This year, it will hold tournaments in Guangzhou over September 18-23, and Ningbo over September 25-30, before the season’s final WTA 1000 event in Beijing from September 30 to October 8. Tournaments will also be held in Zhengzhou, Hong Kong, Nanchang and Zhuhai next month.

“The choice to return is an economic one,” Lionel Maltese, a former member of the executive committee of the French Tennis Federation, said.

“The income generated in China has a strong impact on the financing and income of all players.”

Frenchwoman Alize Cornet – who was one of the first players to back Peng under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai – will not be heading to China, Le Parisien reported.

France’s Alize Cornet in action against China’s Zheng Qinwen at the 2022 French Open. Photo: AFP

The newspaper said the world No 99 had posted a story on Instagram earlier this week confirming her season would only resume later in October.

“Staying true to my convictions and careful about my health, I decided I will not be playing in China this year,” Cornet was quoted as saying.

It is unclear if any players at the tournaments will be vocal about Peng, with Maltese saying there was “no leadership among players on ethical issues”.

“Very few athletes are taking a stand,” he said.

Peng Shuai’s disappearance from public view prompted supporters to wear T-shirts at the 2022 Australian Open. Photo: AP

Peng has not been seen outside China since the allegations were made, but she could make an appearance at the tournaments.

After her initial disappearance from public view, she has made what appeared to be orchestrated appearances at multiple sporting events, including the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022.

In April this year though, the WTA announced the resumption of tournaments, admitting its “principled stand … a powerful message to the world” had not been able “to bring about change”.



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