Tennis star Peng Shuai’s plight poses Olympics headache for China

When the world’s greatest skiers, skaters and different winter athletes convene in Beijing for the Olympics on February 4, there’s a good probability that the world’s consideration will as an alternative be targeted on a Chinese language tennis participant.

The worldwide furore that erupted final week over the plight of Peng Shuai, considered one of China’s most achieved tennis professionals, is rightly targeted on her whereabouts and security after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese language vice-premier, of sexual assault.

The Chinese language Communist get together, nonetheless, is extra involved about how one can quash — and quash shortly — the quickly creating scandal. For each Peng’s allegations and the get together’s merciless and inept response to them have revealed a lot concerning the nature of energy and repression in President Xi Jinping’s China.

The get together’s response to Peng’s allegation, made in a social media publish on November 2, was depressingly predictable and efficient, at the least initially. The publish was quickly taken down by censors. All references to the 35-year-old Peng, a former high 20 singles participant and twice Grand Slam doubles champion, had been erased from China’s walled-off web. After a day or two of excited on-line chatter, abetted by slang and code-words to evade the censors, Peng’s case went chilly.

The place human rights and different abuses are involved, what occurs in China too usually stays in China. However on this occasion, the get together did not anticipate that the Girls’s Tennis Affiliation and Peng’s friends won’t stand idly by as considered one of their very own was disappeared.

On November 14, Steve Simon, WTA chair and chief government, demanded assurances about Peng’s security and wellbeing, in addition to a full, truthful, clear and uncensored investigation into her allegations. “#WhereIsPengShuai,” tennis star Naomi Osaka added on Twitter.

Chinese language state tv’s worldwide arm responded by publishing a message, purportedly written by Peng, assuring Simon that she was advantageous and describing the assault allegations as “not true”. “I’ve simply been resting at house,” the message added. Simon dismissed the message as not credible, mentioned it added to his issues for Peng’s security and even threatened to sever the WTA’s profitable business ties with China. He and Peng had been supported by tennis greats previous and current, equivalent to Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

Over the weekend the Chinese language get together state made one other try and contain the crisis, releasing movies of Peng at a dinner on Saturday and a tennis occasion on Sunday. It additionally organized a half-hour video name between Peng and Thomas Bach, president of the Worldwide Olympic Committee, who mentioned she was secure and had requested that her privateness be “revered presently”.

The get together nonetheless has an enormous downside on its arms. Not like the WTA in current days, the IOC has by no means demonstrated a willingness to talk reality to Chinese language energy. It’s arduous to see how something in need of letting Peng depart China — for instance, to coach within the US and rejoin the ladies’s tour — will fulfill her world supporters.

Any reassurances Peng offers whereas in China can’t be taken at face worth. But when she is allowed to journey abroad, what extra would possibly she should say? Her detailed allegations towards a person of Zhang’s standing are unprecedented. He served on the get together’s strongest physique, the politburo standing committee, for 5 years.

What number of different get together cadres have used their power to harass and abuse ladies in a rustic the place victims can’t communicate freely and the media can’t report freely? What number of extra of China’s 700m ladies could be impressed by Peng’s instance to talk overtly of comparable experiences?

So the get together will attempt to maintain Peng in a managed limbo indefinitely, whereas hoping the remainder of the world finally loses curiosity in her story.

There is only one downside with that technique. The Australian Open ladies’s last will likely be held on January 29, six days earlier than the Olympics opening ceremony.

If at the moment the world’s greatest tennis gamers are nonetheless asking “The place is Peng Shuai?”, China dangers seeing the Olympics flip into an occasion that, removed from reflecting glory on the nation and its leaders, turns into as an alternative a global embarrassment.

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