Who, and where, is Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai?

A common question grips the sports world and draws the attention of the White House, the United Nations and others:

Where is Peng Shuai?

The Chinese tennis star disappeared from public view this month after allegations of sexual harassment against a top Chinese leader surfaced, raising global concerns for his safety. Then this weekend, the editor of a Communist Party-controlled newspaper posted a video clip showing Mrs. Peng eating at a restaurant and attending a tennis event in Beijing.

Steve Simon, a top tennis official, said watching the videos was “positive”, although he said he doubted Mrs Peng was making independent decisions. China’s authoritarian government has a long record of treating people with iron fists who threaten to erode public confidence in the party’s senior leaders.

With just a few months to go before Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Mrs. Peng’s case could be another source of tension over China’s increasingly fragile relationship with the wider world.

Peng Shuai, 35 – his family name is pronounced “pung” and rhymed with “why” at the end of his given name – a three-time Olympian whose tennis career began more than two decades ago.

After winning the double crown at Wimbledon with Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan in February 2014, Mrs. Peng became the World No. 1 in doubles, the first Chinese player, male or female, to top either singles or doubles. She and Miss Hesieh also won the 2014 French Open doubles title.

His dual careers resurfaced in 2016 and 2017. But in 2018, he was banned from professional play for six months, with a three-month suspension, after he was “coerced” and tried to use financial incentives to change him. Wimbledon doubles partner after sign-up deadline. He has not competed professionally since early 2020.

On the evening of November 2, Mrs. Peng posted a long note on the Chinese social platform Weibo that exploded across the Chinese Internet.

In the posting, he accused Zhang Gaoli, 75, a former vice-premier, of inviting him to his home about three years ago and forcing him to have sex. “That afternoon, I didn’t agree at first,” he wrote. “I cried the whole time.”

He and Mr. Zhang started a consensual, if conflicting, then relationship, he writes. Mr. Zhang served on the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top governing body, from 2012 to 2017.

Within minutes, censors scrutinized Mrs. Peng’s account from the Chinese Internet. A digital blackout has been going on since then.

Chinese women who have come forward as victims of sexual harassment and victimization have long faced censorship and pushback. But Mrs. Peng’s account, which has not been confirmed, was the first to implicate such a high-level Communist Party leader, which is why authorities may have been overly diligent in stifling all discussions, even blocking online at one point. Searches the word “tennis”.

The censorship could have been successful if Mr Simon, head of the Women’s Tennis Association, had not spoken on November 14, urging Beijing to investigate Mrs Peng’s allegations and stop trying to bury her case.

Dealing with China has had considerable consequences for other sports organizations. But Mr Simon told CNN that the WTA was ready to take its business out of China.

Tennis teammates – Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Billy Jean King – have so far spoken out in support of Mrs Peng. Spanish football star Gerard Pique Posted with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to its 20 million Twitter followers.

The Biden administration and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have joined Beijing in calling for the release of Miss Peng.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) initially said it was satisfied with the report, although it later suggested that it was involved in “quiet diplomacy” to deal with the situation. In an interview with Reuters, Dick Pound, a longtime member of the committee, said he doubted the issue would lead to the cancellation of the Winter Games. But he couldn’t blow it up, he said.

“If it is not resolved soon, it could spiral out of control,” Mr Pound told the Associated Press.

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Ennes Canter, a center for the Boston Celtics, in which she called for the removal of the Winter Games from Beijing. Mr Kanter was a vocal critic of the Chinese government and attacked its policies Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong And Taiwan.

The streaming partner of the National Basketball Association in China has pulled Celtics games from its platform in response.

“Not all gold medals in the world sell your values ​​and your policies to the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Kanter wrote in The Journal.

Nothing. Not officially, at least.

Instead, China’s state-run news agencies and their staff have become the country’s only semi-official voice. Significantly, they are doing so on Twitter, which is blocked within China. Their messages seem to be aimed specifically at the wider world.

First, a Chinese state broadcaster Posted an email on Twitter, Written in English and blamed on Mrs. Peng, who denied the allegations of assault and said she was “resting at home.” Mr Simon dismissed the email as a “fake” and said it “deepened his concern for the tennis star’s safety.”

Then, Hu Jizin, editor-in-chief of the state-run newspaper Global Times, began sharing videos with Mrs. Peng on her 450,000 Twitter followers.

In Mr. Hu’s First Twitter comment on the subject, He said he did not believe Mrs. Peng was being punished for “what people are talking about”, even refusing to say the nature of her allegations.

On Saturday, Mr. Hu posted two video clips that he said he had “acquired.”

In one clip, a man talks to a woman who appears to be Mrs. Peng at a restaurant when he mentions tomorrow, November 20. Another woman at the table corrects him, saying, “Tomorrow is the 21st.” Mrs. Peng nodded in agreement.

The man appears to be Zhang Junhui, an executive at the China Open tennis tournament.

On Sunday, Mr. Hu posted another clip, which he said was shot by an employee of the Global Times, which shows Mrs. Peng at the opening ceremony of a tennis event in Beijing. Zhang Junhui seems to be standing to the right of Mrs. Peng.

The China Open posted pictures of the same event on its Weibo account on Sunday. Photographs show Mrs. Peng waving to the crowd and signing a tennis ball autograph, although her name is not in the post.

Mr Hu did not share any of the videos on Weibo, which has 24 million followers.

In a statement, Mr Simon of the WTA said the clips were “insufficient” to prove that Mrs Peng had not been forcibly confronted.

“Our relationship with China is at a crossroads,” he said.

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