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WTA Chief Talks Money, China and Why Tennis Needs More Female Coaches

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FORT WORTH — The WTA Finals, the elite season-ending women’s tennis tournament, was imagined to happen in Shenzhen, China, for 10 years and fill the WTA’s coffers.

It has not worked out as planned.

China’s “zero-Covid” policy continues to maintain nearly all international sports events overseas. Even when China did reopen, women’s tennis has suspended all tournaments within the country, once considered one of its key markets, due to unresolved concerns in regards to the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who last 12 months accused a former top Chinese government official of sexual assault.

“We’ve made a robust stand, and we stand behind that stance, and we’re not going to compromise our principles,” Steve Simon, the WTA’s chairman and chief executive, said in an interview. “Clearly after we did it, we understood eyes wide open what it could mean.”

Last 12 months’s WTA Finals were moved to Guadalajara, Mexico. This 12 months’s event, which was scheduled to complete on Monday night, was staged on short notice on the 14,000-seat Dickies Arena in Fort Value with attendance that built from woefully low early within the tournament to modest, but enthusiastic, crowds of near 6,000 in among the later sessions.

Some coaches and players, including No. 1 Iga Swiatek, said they understood the challenges but were upset with the turnout. Swiatek, who was defeated by the seventh-ranked Aryna Sabalenka within the semifinals on Sunday, also cited the large gap in prize money between the WTA Finals, which offers $5 million, and the equivalent men’s tournament, the ATP Finals, which starts Sunday in Turin, Italy, and can offer an event record $14.75 million.

The 2019 WTA Finals, the one time the tournament was held to this point in Shenzhen, offered $14 million in prize money, which was $5 million greater than the 2019 men’s event in London.

“It’s just pretty sad the WTA form of got hit by Covid and by not having the place to play before and organize all the things properly,” Swiatek said. “But however, you may have an example within the ATP that they were capable of do all the things and even increase the prize money. So, hopefully for next time, we’re going to be form of more prepared.”

However the ATP didn’t bank as heavily on China, and at this stage it seems unlikely the WTA will soon return to the country where it staged nine tournaments in 2019. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, doubled down on the “zero Covid” policy last month, and Simon reaffirmed in Fort Value that the tour’s suspension of tournaments in China won’t be lifted until there’s a reputable and transparent inquiry into Peng’s allegations, which were made in November 2021 on her Chinese social media account, in addition to a likelihood for tour officials to speak together with her independently.

“We’re still in the identical place,” Simon said. “In the event that they come forward with something else we must always take a look at, after all we’re open to it. But we haven’t seen it to this point. I’m hopeful we do discover a resolution. That’s the goal, to seek out the best resolution. What’s the reality? Then we are able to move forward.”

Peng, a 2014 U.S. Open singles semifinalist who made public appearances in the course of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, has since recanted the assault allegations, citing a misunderstanding. Now 36, she announced her retirement earlier this 12 months. However the WTA stays unconvinced that she is capable of act and speak freely and it has still not been capable of make direct contact together with her.

“We all know she’s protected, and he or she’s in Beijing and doing OK,” Simon said. “We haven’t spoken directly together with her.”

If the stalemate continues, Simon said the tour would seek a longer-term solution for the Finals, which have traditionally been a key revenue stream. As an alternative, the WTA was obliged to supply the $5 million in prize money in Guadalajara and again in Fort Value: quite a downturn from Shenzhen providing all of it in 2019.

Simon said there was more interest from prospective cities in staging the event on a multiyear basis due to economics. He said securing sites for a single 12 months has been a challenge despite going to market in March this 12 months. Though Fort Value and its modern arena were welcome, announcing it so late within the season made it difficult to advertise (as did football season in Texas).

“We’re not going to proceed to do these one-year decisions,” Simon said. “It’s not sustainable. If it looks like we are able to’t return to China or aren’t able to return, then I do think we are going to carve out a multiyear situation, because we want to for the business.”

The WTA signed a latest title sponsor, Hologic, in 2022 that provided crucial funding, a few of it up front, however the tour continues to hunt other investors and is now in exclusive and advanced negotiations with CVC Capital Partners, a personal equity firm based in Luxembourg that would take a stake within the tour and help address the prize-money gap that Swiatek complained about.

“It’s just a really complex business decision and business move we want to work through,” said Simon, emphasizing that the deal, if concluded, wouldn’t further complicate the governance of a sport already awash in governing bodies.

Though the 4 Grand Slam tournaments and several other other top-tier combined events, just like the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., offer equal prize money to men and ladies, the gap has widened between many stand-alone men’s and ladies’s events.

“When are people going to start out stepping up and really following through?” Simon said. “They’re saying one thing about support of ladies athletes and sports and leagues and the necessity to take a position, but relating to actually stepping up and treating it the identical way and investing that isn’t happening.”

Though a merger with the ATP, an idea floated most recently during tennis’ hiatus in 2020 on the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, has not materialized, there’s increased cooperation, symbolized by the United Cup, the brand new men’s and ladies’s team event in Australia in January that was formerly the lads’s only ATP Cup and can lead in to the Australian Open.

But major equity issues remain, including the persistent dearth of ladies in coaching. The WTA said that there are only six working full time with the highest 100 WTA singles players and top 50 doubles players. The problem is complex. Women have traditionally been more proof against the year-round travel, and male coaches often still function hitting partners for female pros, thus fulfilling two roles and saving money. But Simon sees bias as well, and the WTA launched an initiative last week to extend those paltry numbers, offering a web-based certification course and opportunities to shadow coaches and players during tournaments.

“I believe you’re dealing again with considered one of those stigmas,” Simon said. “Hopefully we are able to recruit and get more women after they finish playing or they’ve passed through the coaching ranks that they are going to proceed to rise and develop into an element of the tour.”

Simon said the WTA can even soon appoint a latest director of safeguarding: a subject on the forefront of ladies’s sports with last month’s investigative report on the National Women’s Soccer League revealing widespread sexual misconduct and coercion by coaches.

In tennis, Pierre Bouteyre, a former coach of the leading French tennis player Fiona Ferro, was charged earlier this 12 months in France with rape and sexual assault against Ferro when she was a teen.

“It’s a critical issue to the tour, and it goes way beyond sport,” Simon said of protecting players from abuse.

The WTA has existing programs focused on player education and background checks and credentialing for coaches. But Simon and other tennis leaders consider the game should do way more collectively. He said the International Tennis Integrity Agency, the independent body that investigates doping and corruption in the sport, could add safeguarding to its portfolio.

“It’s exploratory for now but serious,” said Simon, who said involving the agency would allow coordinated oversight across the “entire sport” from the junior level to the professional tour.

“That’s not the case now, everyone seems to be doing their very own thing to the most effective they will,” Simon said. “Considered one of the education pieces is we want to assist ourselves. In the event you see it, it is advisable to report it, so we are able to react to it versus just coping with rumors, since it’s such a sensitive topic, and it’s hard to get people to come back forward.”

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