June 8, 2023

Brighton Journal

Complete News World

The WTA lifts suspension of tournaments in China

The WTA will resume running tournaments in China later this year after suspending events there in late 2021 due to concerns about Chinese player Peng Shuai.

The return, announced Thursday, is also a dip.

When Peng, one of China’s biggest tennis stars, accused a former top Chinese government official of sexual assault in a social media post in November 2021, the WTA and Steve Simon, its president and CEO, took a strong stand.

The WTA called for a “full and transparent” investigation into the allegations by Peng, who was soon censored online in China, and asked for an opportunity to speak to her directly. The following month, the WTA suspended its Chinese Championships and announced that the tour would not return until its demands were met.

Sixteen months later, facing a stalemate, the WTA effectively backed out.

“We are currently satisfied that the requests we have made will not be met,” Simon said in an interview this week. However, continuing with the same strategy does not make sense, and we need a different approach. Our members believe it is time to resume our mission in China, where we believe we can continue to make a positive difference, as I believe we have for the past 20 years when we have been there, while making sure that Peng is not forgotten and that we can, by returning, Make some progress.”

The WTA’s suspension of the Chinese tournaments was more symbolic than substantial. China canceled nearly all international sporting events in 2021 and 2022 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Even without the WTA’s suspension, there will almost certainly be no Tour events in the country in 2022.

But in a landscape where global sporting leaders often acquiesce to China and its economic clout, the WTA’s move in 2021 still sends a powerful message and makes the Tour an anomaly. The ATP men’s tennis tour has not followed suit and has never suspended any of its Chinese events, including the Masters 1000 in Shanghai. With the Chinese authorities lifting restrictions related to the epidemic, this year it is set to premiere for the first time since 2019.

See also  'Very disappointed' sponsor hints he's over with Dustin Johnson

Over the years, China has become a more important market for the WTA than the ATP market. The women’s tour held nine events in China in 2019, accounting for about a third of the WTA’s annual revenue. The most important of those tournaments was the season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen, which awarded a record $14 million in prize money in 2019, the first year of a lucrative 10-year deal.

The tour, which had long relied heavily on WTA Finals revenue, became a financial hit when the event was canceled in 2020 and then moved to Guadalajara, Mexico in 2021 and Fort Worth in 2022. In Guadalajara and Fort Worth, the federation had to WTA paid the much smaller prize money, $5 million, himself.

Simon said the tour will resume playing in China in September. Although the schedule is not yet complete, he said he expects to hold eight tournaments there this year: regular tours of Zhengzhou, Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanchang, Hong Kong and Wuhan. WTA Elite Cup in Zhuhai; and the Finals, which Simon indicated will be held in Shenzhen through 2031 to fulfill the original ten-year commitment.

Simon said many of the events outside of China that filled the late-season gap in 2022 will remain on the Tour’s fall schedule this year, including tournaments in San Diego and Guadalajara and also in Tunisia.

The WTA has faced significant financial headwinds since its pandemic-shortened 2020 season, with its overall prize money falling more than the men’s tour. Last month, the WTA announced a business partnership with CVC Capital Partners, a global private equity firm, which will invest $150 million in the round.

See also  Duke volleyball player said Brigham United University officials failed to stop racial harassment during the match in a newly released statement.

A return to China would boost the WTA’s finances, but Simon refused to suggest the decision was all about the final outcome.

“This decision was not made based on the Finals deal in any way, shape or form,” Simon said. “It was based on what was in the interest of the organization, and we felt that was in the best interest. Would that be good for our balance sheet and those kinds of things, yes it would, but that was not the basis of the decision.”

It is also important for women’s sports that women’s tennis has a presence in China, Simone said, where the game has grown since the success of women’s star Li Na, the first Grand Slam singles champion from China.

Peng, who disappeared from the public eye for several weeks after her initial allegations were published in 2021, has since resurfaced, including for a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach during the Beijing Games in February 2022. She has also given interviews to international media. , claiming that she had been misunderstood and not actually making allegations of sexual assault.

But the WTA continued to question whether she was able to speak freely. Although Simon said the WTA was still unable to establish direct contact with Peng, he said the tour had received assurances from “people close to Peng in the area that she is safe and living with her family in Beijing.”

Despite the public confrontation between the WTA and the Chinese government, Simon said officials from the National Sports Authority have given assurances to the WTA that “athletes and staff will be safe when in China”.

See also  Celtics vs Heat: Boston beat Miami in Game 7 and reach the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years

The return to China comes at a time of heightened political tension between China and the West, but other international events, including the track and field Diamond League and the Asian Games, a multi-sport competition, are also returning to the country this year. Simon said the WTA had consulted its players before making the decision.

“Obviously we had some players who weren’t supportive of a return, but the majority said it was time to come back,” said Simon.

Some tennis officials believe Simone and the WTA went too far by demanding a Chinese investigation into Peng’s accusations as a condition for lifting the ban. However, the WTA has also received widespread acclaim for its strong stance from human rights organizations and others. Last week, Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged the WTA to stand firm in its comment.

“If that is reversed, the message really is that the WTA has finally given in to business and to profit and that the WTA is no different than other businesses,” he said. Wang told Reuters.

Does Simon feel that the WTA is letting people down now?

“We are proud of the position we have taken,” he said. “If I had to make the decision again, I would have made the same decision, no doubt about it. We think people understand that we have dealt with a very difficult issue. We did our best to achieve results, but unfortunately we were not able to achieve everything we wanted. But we also managed.” It’s about making sure Peng is safe and secure, and not forgotten or left behind. Things have to evolve. You can’t keep doing the same thing if it’s not working.”