The WTA has issued an ultimatum to China with professional tennis not to return to the country until the organisation gets a meeting in person with sexual assault accuser Peng Shuai.
Peng, a former doubles world No.1, initially alleged she was sexually assaulted by China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli in 2017, before publicly retracting the allegations after she disappeared from public view for an extended period of time.
The Sporting News has all the latest on the saga surrounding the 36-year-old tennis star.
MORE: WTA still have ‘concerns’ for Peng Shuai, call for sexual assault investigation
What is the WTA’s ultimatum to China over Peng Shuai?
The WTA suspended tournaments in China in 2021 – a decision that likely cost the organisation millions of dollars in sponsorship and broadcast – after Peng’s accusations and subsequent disappearance.
Despite Peng’s reappearance in the public and subsequent denial of her initial accusation – with doubts over the validity of her backflip – the WTA has decided to continue to deny China professional tennis tournaments until they can privately meet with the Chinese tennis player.
Peng has not been seen outside China or without government minders since the saga began.
“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.”
However, the WTA revealed they had confirmation Peng was safe; they just want to meet with her personally.
“We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng,” the statement continued. “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.”
What happened with Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegations?
Peng initially alleged via social media in November last year that China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her in 2017.
After the post was removed off social media within an hour, Peng was not seen in public for weeks, prompting the tennis community and fans to express concerns for her welfare, while the WTA cancelled tournaments in China and some countries refused to send diplomats to the Beijing 2022 Olympics.
MORE: Peng Shuai again denies sexual assault, speaks about ‘disappearance’
When did Peng Shuai retract her sexual assault allegations?
After weeks of being missing, Peng eventually broke her silence in an interview with French publication L’Equipe, insisting she was never ‘missing’ or sexually assaulted by anyone.
It is the second time Peng has publicly retracted the initial sexual assault allegations she made.
Despite her L’Equipe interview, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon revealed he still had concerns for the safety and welfare of Peng and insisted that her initial sexual assault allegations be investigated.
“It’s always good to see Peng Shuai, whether in an interview or attending the Olympic Games,” Simon said via a statement on the WTA website.
“However, her recent in-person interview does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2nd.
“To reiterate our view, Peng 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.
“We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai.”
MORE: Peng Shuai retracts sexual assault allegations, claims ‘misunderstanding’
Why is there concerns over Peng Shuai’s backflip?
Because of Peng’s disappearance and the fact she hasn’t left China since her accusations, there are concerns over whether the retraction of the sexual assault claims is legitimate.
During one of her interviews where Peng claimed the sexual assault accusations were a ‘huge misunderstanding’, Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) chief of staff Wang Kan was seen sitting feet away from Shuai in photos published by France’s L’Equipe newspaper.