Tennis world left outraged over WTA tour's 'shameful' backflip on China

The WTA tour will resume events in China this year after a 16-month boycott due to the Peng Shuai situation.

WTA boss Steve Simon, pictured here alongside Ash Barty and other tennis players at the WTA Finals in 2019.

The WTA tour is copping heat around the tennis world after a shock decision to resume events in China after a 16-month boycott due to the situation surrounding Peng Shuai. The women's tour hasn't played any tournaments in China since 2021 amid concerns over Peng's safety.

The former doubles World No.1 hasn't been seen outside of China since making claims of sexual assault against a high-ranking politician. Peng went missing from the public spotlight for a number of weeks after making the claims, before returning and denying she was in any danger when she retracted them.

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She then made an appearance at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and told IOC boss Thomas Bach that she was perfectly safe and free. However concerns remain about whether she was forced to retract her claims, with many of the belief that she's being heavily controlled by the government.

Amidst the drama, the WTA made the staggering move to suspend all events in China - including the lucrative WTA Finals event which takes place at the end of each year. Retired Aussie hero Ash Barty won the last WTA Finals to be held in China in 2019, before it was cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19 and moved away from China in 2021. But the season-ending tournament will now resume its 10-year deal with the city of Shenzhen.

On Thursday, WTA boss Steve Simon announced that the women's tour will return to China in September, citing the lack of change in the Peng Shuai as a main reason. The governing body admitted its "principled stand... a powerful message to the world" had not been able "to bring about change".

Ash Barty, pictured here after winning the last WTA Finals to be held in China in 2019.
Ash Barty won the last WTA Finals to be held in China in 2019. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

"In 2021, when Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai bravely came forward, the WTA took a stance and suspended its operation of events in China out of concern for her safety and the safety of our players and staff," a statement from the WTA tour said. "After 16 months of suspended tennis competition in China and sustained efforts at achieving our original requests, the situation has shown no sign of changing.

"We have concluded we will never fully secure those goals, and it will be our players and tournaments who ultimately will be paying an extraordinary price for their sacrifices. For these reasons, the WTA is lifting its suspension of the operation of tournaments in the People's Republic of China and will resume tournaments in China this September."

The WTA added: "We have not been able to achieve everything we set out for, but we have been in touch with people close to Peng and are assured she is living safely with her family in Beijing. We also have received assurances that 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."

Peng Shuai, pictured here in action at the Australian Open in 2020.
Peng Shuai in action at the Australian Open in 2020. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Tennis world responds to WTA decision on China

Speaking from his home in Florida, Simon said: “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.

“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.”

Discussing the decision, World No.5 Caroline Garcia said she understood why the WTA was making a "very important" return to China. "The ATP and the ITF (International Tennis Federation) were already going back, and women's tennis is following," she told the BBC. "In the past we have had some huge tournaments over there and I think it is an important swing for us in our calendar and I'm looking forward to it."

However the overwhelming response was one of anger. Many labelled the decision 'shameful' and 'disgusting' on social media.

with AFP

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