The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced Tuesday that it will return to hosting tournaments in China in 2023 after previously suspending all events in the country, including Hong Kong, last November due to the uncertainty over tennis player Peng Shuai’s safety.
Peng was feared to be held incommunicado by the Chinese government after she accused retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into sex during a years-long on-off relationship.
The immediate response from Chinese authorities was to censor any mention of the accusation 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 as to 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 having made the sexual assault claim.
“I have never spoken or written about anyone sexually assaulting me,” Peng told Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in December 2021.
WTA Chairman Steve Simon stated at the time of the WTA’s 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 has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault.
“Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”
In Tuesday’s statement, the WTA said the season-ending WTA Finals will be held in in Shenzhen, China, in 2023, while this year’s edition – originally slated to be hosted in the Asian nation – will be held in Fort Worth, Texas, beginning 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 he spoke to Peng about six weeks ago and she appears to be safe.
Haggerty admitted that he had not seen Peng in person, but had spoken to her via video conference.