The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced on Tuesday that it will hold tournaments in China again in 2023 after previously suspending all events in the country, including Hong Kong, last November due to uncertainty over the safety of the female tennis player Peng Shuai.
Peng feared the Chinese government would keep her incommunicado after she accused retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex during a years-long on-and-off relationship.
The immediate response of Chinese authorities was to censor any mention of the indictment online and block Peng’s Weibo account from search results.
Peng disappeared from public view for more than two weeks, prompting the world’s biggest tennis stars and the United Nations to demand answers about her whereabouts as well as a full investigation into her allegations against Zhang.
Peng, a three-time Olympian and Grand Slam doubles champion, later denied making the sexual assault claim.
“I have never spoken or written about anyone sexually assaulting me,” Peng told Singapore’s Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in December 2021.
WTA President Steve Simon stated at the time of the WTA ban in China: “I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and seems who has been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexuality.assault.
“Given the current state of affairs, I am also very concerned about the risks that all our players and staff could face if we held events in China in 2022.”
In Tuesday’s statement, the WTA said the WTA Season Finals will be held in Shenzhen, China in 2023, while this year’s edition, which was initially planned for the Asian nation, will be held in Fort Worth, Texas, starting in October. 31.
CNN has reached out to the WTA and Simon for comment now that the tour has decided to return to China.
In August, International Tennis Federation (ITF) president David Haggerty told CNN that he spoke with Peng about six weeks ago and she appears to be safe.
Haggerty admitted that he had not seen Peng in person, but had spoken with her via video conference.