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WTA set to return to China in September despite uncertainty over Peng Shuai’s situation

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The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced Thursday that it will return to hosting tournaments in China in the fall after suspending all events in the country in 2021 due to the uncertainty over tennis player Peng Shuai’s safety.

“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,” the WTA said in a statement.

“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.”

Peng was feared to be held incommunicado by the Chinese government after she accused retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into sex during a years-long on-and-off relationship.

“While we do not regret our decision on the suspension, the WTA and its members feel that now is the time to return to our mission in China. We are hopeful that by returning more progress can be made,” the WTA said. “Peng cannot be forgotten through this process.

“It is important that our renewed engagement in China provides continued safety for Peng and all the women athletes who will benefit from our 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.”

Peng last appeared in February 2022 when she met Olympic officials at the Beijing Winter Games and then was interviewed by independent French sport news site L’Equipe.

The WTA did not disclose the tour’s schedule in China. Last year, the tour said the 2023’s season-ending WTA Finals will be held in in Shenzhen, China.

Human Rights Watch called the WTA’s decision to return to China a “huge disappointment,” but “not surprising.”

“International businesses need to work together to do the right thing,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s hard to challenge the Chinese government alone, but if businesses band together to address China’s flouting of human rights, the power balance can shift.

“After all, sports organizations and companies all want to operate in an environment where the human rights of their players, employees, and consumers are protected and there is rule of law. It’s important to keep Peng Shuai’s case in the public eye.

“What she did initially was extraordinary. It gave the world a glimpse into the corruption and abuses at the very top of the Chinese government. For it, she is still paying a price. Even given the outcome, what she did and what the WTA did initially was not in vain.

“The IOC, which governs the WTA, has adopted a human rights framework in the aftermath of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, and all sports federations have a responsibility to do human rights due diligence for their operations in China and beyond.

“The road to expose the Chinese government’s human rights abuses and hold it accountable is difficult and often incurs a cost, and it’s not a straight road.”

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