The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced on Tuesday that it will resume hosting tournaments in China in 2023 after previously suspending all events in the country, including Hong Kong, last November due to uncertainty over the safety of tennis player Peng Shuai.
Peng was feared to be held incommunicado by the Chinese government after she accused retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex during a years-long on-off relationship.
The Chinese authorities’ immediate response was to censor any mention of the allegation online and ban 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 Olympic gold medalist and doubles Grand Slam champion, later denied making the sexual assault allegation.
“I have never spoken or written about anyone who sexually assaulted me,” Peng told Singapore’s Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in December 2021.
WTA Chairman 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 appears to have been pressured into denying her allegation of sexual assault .
“Given the current situation, I am also very concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we held events in China in 2022.”
In Tuesday’s statement, the WTA said the WTA Finals will be held in Shenzhen, China, at the end of the 2023 season, while this year’s edition – originally slated to take place in the Asian nation – will be held in Fort Worth, Texas at the start will be October 31st.
CNN has reached out to the WTA and Simon for comment after the Tour decided to return to China.
In August, International Tennis Federation (ITF) President David Haggerty told CNN he spoke to Peng about six weeks ago and she appears to be safe.
Haggerty admitted not seeing Peng in person but speaking to her via video conference.