(Reuters) – The WTA is still working to find a resolution to the standoff with China over the Peng Shuai issue but will not return to the country this year, Tour chief Steve Simon said.
Former doubles world number one Peng’s wellbeing became a concern for the WTA after she posted a message on social media last November accusing China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
The post was subsequently removed and Peng disappeared from public view for three weeks.
The following month, the WTA suspended all of its tournaments in China, a decision expected to cost the elite women’s tour hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship.
“We remain dedicated to finding a resolution to this,” Simon told The Tennis Podcast.
“We want to find a resolution that Peng can be comfortable with, the Chinese government can be comfortable with, and we can be comfortable with.
“We are not about walking away from China. We have suspended our operations there right now. We will continue to do that until we get to a resolution.
“We will stay resolute. We do hope to be back there in 2023 with the resolution that shows progress was made in the space. That’s a victory for the world if we can accomplish that.”
Peng, who had already effectively retired from professional tennis, made an appearance at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February and denied she had accused anyone of sexual assault, adding that she herself had deleted the social media post.
The WTA, however, stuck to its demand for a formal investigation into Peng’s allegations and an opportunity to meet with her privately to discuss the situation.
“We have not had any recent communication with Peng and the world has not seen Peng since the Olympics either,” Simon said.
“I don’t think you will make change in this world by walking away from issues. You have to create change.
“It might not be everything we want. But we have to find a solution that finds that balance that allows us to go back and see progress in the area.”
The WTA has yet to announce its 2022 calendar for events after the U.S. Open Grand Slam in September, but Simon said the governing body would announce a “fairly solid” autumn schedule within the next two or three weeks.
While there has been signs of collaboration between the ATP Tour and the WTA since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the men’s Tour has not withdrawn its presence from China and will host four tournaments in the country this season.
Simon said he respected the ATP’s position.
“Their difference is that … they don’t have a member that’s affected there,” Simon added. “They will have to make their own decisions at this point of time.
“Would we love to have their support on what we are standing for there and the issues? Absolutely. But we are not trying to influence their decision in any way, it has to be theirs.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Nick Mulvenney and Peter Rutherford)