So what happened to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai? After missing for almost two weeks, the athlete traveled to a tennis tournament in Beijing on Sunday, according to videos and event officials, as international pressure increased to obtain information about her health.
Wearing a navy sweatshirt and white sweatpants, Peng Shuai appears in the photos of the finals of the Row Kids Junior Tennis Challenger, posted on the official account of the Weibo China Open. This is the first public appearance of the former world number one and double star in her country, since she accused Zhang Gaoli, a powerful former Communist Party official 40 years her senior, of having coerced into having sex for a discontinuous relationship of several years. .
“I find this case very worrying”
France, however, has demanded this Sunday that the player be able to “speak” freely to clarify her situation. “I find this case very worrying,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told LCI. “I’m just waiting for Ms. Peng Shuai to speak. And if the Chinese authorities want to make it clear, they have to let Ms. Peng Shuai speak, say where she is, how she lives, what she does, how she prepares for the Olympics.” .
“It is clear that he has disappeared, if that is not true, and even if he speaks (…). If it were banned by chance, if there was obviously a disappearance, we would have to draw diplomatic consequences, “he added, adding no further details.
Following the global protest, including tennis stars and the United Nations, Chinese state media published a series of images to show that everything was going well with the athlete. A video of the event, posted on Twitter by influential Global Times editor Hu Xijin, shows Peng in the middle of a group of guests whose names are announced to the audience.
A Global Times reporter tweeted another video showing Peng signing autographs for children in what appears to be the same stadium before posing for photos with them.
Hu Xijin, who claims some closeness to power, also posted two videos of the player “having dinner with her coach and friends at a restaurant” in Beijing in the evening and shot the same day, he said.
In the pictures, Peng Shuai is surrounded by two women with whom he shares lunch and wine in a noisy place. A man is sitting in front of the player and the conversation is about “games”. “Tomorrow is November 20” (Saturday), he said, before being interrupted by one of the guests: “It’s the 21st” (tomorrow Sunday). The exchange, which appears to be staged, was filmed in the evening with a mobile phone by an unidentified person. Peng Shuai looks relaxed.
AFP was unable to confirm the location or conditions under which the images were shot. And Hu Xijin made no reference to his Weibo account in Chinese.
“Video alone is not enough”
China’s #MeToo movement had never reached the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party before the publication attributed to Peng. These were quickly removed from the Weibo platform, and Zhang’s security concerns have been growing ever since.
In a statement released on Saturday, WTA President Steve Simon found it “positive” to see the athlete, but “video alone is not enough” to show that he is “free in his decisions and actions.” he loved. The WTA has threatened to terminate lucrative contracts with China if it does not find out about Peng’s security.
As early as Wednesday, Chinese public television CGTN had caused trouble by revealing a screenshot of an email attributed to Peng Shuai. The channel aimed at a foreign audience then claimed that the Chinese player had personally sent her to the WTA management, which manages the women’s professional tennis circuit.
On CNN, her boss Steve Simon on Thursday expressed her perplexity at the message in which the champion declared that her accusations against Zhang Gaoli were “false”. “I don’t think that’s the truth at all,” Mr. Simon, calling the email in question “staged.”
Proof requests are pouring in
Four allegedly recent features of the tennis champion had been posted on the Twitter account @shen_shiwei, labeled by the social network as “media affiliated with the Chinese state.”
AFP has not been able to establish independently when these photos were taken, and the account author’s requests for an explanation have gone unanswered.
The Chinese government has repeatedly refused to comment on the case. Discussions about the charges are blocked on China’s Internet, which is tightly controlled. But a growing number of voices in the world of sports and beyond want to know where and how Peng is.
The United Kingdom urged China on Saturday night to “urgently provide verifiable evidence of its security and whereabouts.” The UN has also called for evidence that it is doing well, and several countries, including the United States and France, have expressed “concern” that the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai (#WhereisPengShuai) has spread like wildfire on the networks. social.
Some of the biggest names in tennis have spoken out on the case, such as Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka and Roger Federer, who told Sky News: “She is one of our tennis champions, a former world number one. “This is obviously worrying. I hope she is safe.”