Melbourne | WTA stands firm on Peng Shuai as AO allows t-shirts

The WTA has confirmed that the return of its tournaments to China in 2023 remains conditional on a resolution to the Peng Shuai issue, with the governing body of the women’s game telling Reuters last week that it still has not met the Chinese former doubles World No 1 personally.

We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng. The WTA continues to work towards a resolution. While we have always indicated we are hopeful we will be in a position to again operate WTA events in the region, we will not compromise our founding principles in order to do so. WTA Statement

“There has not been any change in the WTA position on a return to China and we have only confirmed our 2023 calendar through US Open,” the WTA said in a statement. “A return to the region will require a resolution to the Peng situation in which she took a bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader.

“As we would do with any of our players globally, we have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng – privately – to discuss her situation.”

The WTA says it has received confirmation Peng is safe and comfortable, but are yet to meet with her personally.

“We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng,” the statement added. “The WTA continues to work towards a resolution.

“While we have always indicated we are hopeful we will be in a position to again operate WTA events in the region, we will not compromise our founding principles in order to do so.”

Peng had accused Chinese former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in 2021 in a post on social media that was soon removed from the country’s internet. Later she denied having made the accusation.

The WTA immediately suspend tournaments in China, a decision that has cost the women’s tour hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship rights.

Meanwhile, ‘Where is Peng Shuai’ t-shirts rocked the Australian Open last year, and activists were planning to ‘make trouble’ for Tennis Australia over their commercial links to China despite the issue.

AO organisers have since reversed the controversial ban on T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley has confirmed the decision.

Tiley later added the t-shirt protests would be permitted provided ‘they are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful’.

Official pressure on China over the Peng Shuai affair has been scattershot, and there has been criticism of the ATP Tour’s lack of concern in particular.

Former World No 1 Martin Navratilova has come out in support of the protests and feels that more needs to be done when player safety is at stake.

“I support the protests,” added the three-time AO champion. “The Women’s Tennis Association is the only one that has actually tried to do something [about Peng Shuai].”

The protesters turned up at every Grand Slam in 2022, and intend to continue to lift their voices in support of Peng.


The WTA is insisting on a private meeting with Peng Shuai before it will consider returning the women's tour to China

© Wang He/Getty Images




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