Tennis star Peng Shuai’s plight makes China a headache for the Olympics

When the world’s best skiers, skaters, and other winter athletes gather in Beijing on February 4 for the Olympics, the world’s attention is likely to turn to Chinese tennis players.

The international anger that erupted last week in the plight of Peng Shuai, one of China’s most accomplished tennis professionals, is rightly focused on her whereabouts and safety. She accused Zhang Gaoli, Former Vice Premier of China, sexual assault case.

However, the Chinese Communist Party is more concerned about how to quell — and quickly quell — the rapidly developing scandal. Both Peng’s accusations and the party’s cruel and incompetent response to them have fully revealed the nature and essence of power. inhibition In President Xi Jinping’s China.

The party’s response to Peng’s allegations was made in a social media post on November 2. It is frustrating that it was predictable and effective at least in the initial stage.Post is Remove quickly By the examiner. All mentions of the 35-year-old Peng, the top 20 former singles players and two Grand Slam doubles champions, have been removed from the blocked Internet in China. After a day or two of excited online chats, and evaded censorship at the instigation of slang and code words, Peng’s case became cold.

As far as human rights and other violations are concerned, what happens in China tends to stay in China. But in this case, the party did not expect that the Women’s Tennis Association and Peng’s peers might not stand idly by, because one of them has disappeared.

On November 14, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon requested assurances about Peng’s safety and well-being, and a full, fair, transparent, and uncensored investigation into her allegations. “#WhereIsPengShuai”, tennis star Naomi Osaka added on Twitter.

In response, the international department of China’s national television station released a message, allegedly written by Peng, assuring Simon that she was okay and describing the assault allegations as “untrue.” “I just rested at home,” the message added. Simon believed that the news was not credible, saying it increased his concerns about Peng’s safety and even threatened to cut off WTA’s lucrative business ties with China.Him and peng Tennis superstar support Past and present, such as Billy Jane King, Chris Evert, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

Last weekend, the Chinese Communist country tried again Contain the crisis, Released Peng’s video during the dinner on Saturday and the tennis match on Sunday. It also arranged a half-hour video call between Peng and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, who said she was safe and demanded “respect her privacy at this time”.

The party still faces a big problem. Unlike the WTA in recent days, International Olympic Committee He has never shown a willingness to speak the truth to Chinese forces. It is difficult to see what else can satisfy her global supporters other than letting Peng leave China—for example, to train in the United States and rejoin the women’s tour.

Any guarantee that Peng gave during his stay in China cannot be based solely on the surface. But if she is allowed to travel abroad, what else can she say? Her detailed accusations against people like Zhang are unprecedented. He worked for five years as a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s most powerful institution.

How many other party cadres have used their Power to harass To abuse women in a country where victims cannot speak freely and the media cannot report freely? How many of China’s 700 million women might be inspired by Peng’s example to openly talk about similar experiences?

Therefore, the party will try to keep Peng under control indefinitely, and hope that the rest of the world will eventually lose interest in her story.

There is only one problem with this strategy. The Australian Open women’s final will be held on January 29, six days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

If the best tennis player in the world at that time was still asking “Where is Peng Shuai?”, then China might see the Olympic Games become not only the glory of the country and leaders, but also an international embarrassing event.

tom.mitchell@ft.com

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