Nearly two weeks after people around the world started asking “Where is Peng Shuai?”, Two questionable videos appeared on social media Saturday featuring a man who appears to be a Chinese tennis star in a restaurant.
The videos were tweeted by the editor of a state newspaper, but the seemingly unnatural conversation in one video, as well as the unclear location and dates of both, raised questions about Peng’s safety and whether she appeared in the video of her own accord. … A third video of Peng playing a tennis match in Beijing was released about 10 hours later on Sunday.
Peng, in a social media post this month, accused a former senior government official of raping her. Following the indictment, the Chinese government removed almost all mentions of Peng on the country’s social media, and Peng disappeared from public life. Her absence has sparked outrage around the world, especially from senior officials and tennis stars.
Steve Simon, executive director of the WTA, the women’s professional tennis tour, has been particularly harsh, demanding verified evidence that Peng is safe and can navigate society as she pleases, and that officials are fully investigating her allegations. If that doesn’t happen, Simon said the WTA will stop playing tennis in China.
On Saturday, following the release of the videos, Simon continued to express frustration at the inability to independently verify Peng’s welfare and said that “the organization’s relationship with China is at a crossroads.”
“While it is pleasant to see her, it remains unclear whether she is free and can make decisions and act on her own, without coercion or outside interference,” he said. “This video alone is not enough.”
Peng, 35, the only Chinese tennis player she was ranked first in the world in women’s doubles, and was once hailed by the Chinese government as an exemplary athlete.
Videos were posted to Twitter account Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the influential Communist Party newspaper The Global Times, who described them as if Peng had lunch on Saturday with her coach and friends.
He wrote that he had “acquiredThe clips were not explained how, and the clips were staged to set a date. V first clip, the man called Coach Peng discusses the plans with her and asks, “Isn’t it November 20th tomorrow?” The woman sitting next to Peng corrects him and says it will be November 21st. Then he repeats the date twice.
V second clip, a masked woman, presumably Peng, goes to a restaurant. The camera pauses on a plaque indicating the date of the last cleaning, which has been a common sight in Chinese buildings since the SARS epidemic. But only the month of November is visible; the date seems unclear.
Hu posted third video hours later, describing it as the opening ceremony of the teenage tennis final in Beijing on Sunday, which he “attended.”
On Friday, a journalist for another Chinese media outlet posted photos of Pen in what looked like a bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals. In these photographs, Peng looked younger than in her later photographs, and there was nothing to check when they were taken.
Also on Friday, Simon wrote to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States to reiterate his complaints and his threat to cancel nine WTA-hosted events in China, including the prestigious WTA final in Shenzhen. All tournaments in China this year have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The WTA Finals wrapped up Wednesday in Guadalajara, Mexico.
If Peng is unable to speak freely, Simon wrote, “we seriously fear that any of our players will be safe in China.”
The men’s tennis tournament has expressed concern but has not yet threatened to withdraw its tournaments from China.
The controversy surrounding Peng erupts a little more than two months before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, raising concerns about one of the world’s largest sporting events taking place in a country lacking a three-time Olympic tennis star.
The International Olympic Committee said it believes that “quiet diplomacy” will provide the best chance to resolve the situation. Friday IOC Member Dick Pound said to Reuters that if the Peng situation “is not resolved in a reasonable way soon, it could get out of hand.” He added: “I doubt this will lead to the end of the Olympic Games. But you never know. “
Simon spent over a week trying to establish personal contact with Peng through a series of phone numbers and other digital contacts, but was unable to speak to her.
The videos on Saturday were the latest media released by a China-controlled organization trying to establish Peng’s safety. Earlier this week, China’s state-owned broadcaster released a report purported to be from it.
“Hello everyone, this is Peng Shuai,” it said. He called the sexual assault charge just a few weeks ago untrue. “I am not lost and I am not safe,” the message says. “I am resting at home, everything is fine. Thanks again for taking care of me. “
Simon quickly denounced the release of the message.
“I find it hard to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” he said.
Peng has accused Zhang Gaoli, 75, former vice premier of China, rape her in her home three years ago. In a post on her verified Weibo account, the Chinese version of Twitter, Peng wrote that the attack came after Zhang invited her to play tennis at her home. “I was so scared that day,” she said. “I never gave my consent, I cried all the time.”
She also revealed that she had a temporary, consensual relationship with Zhang.
Jen Psaki, a White House spokeswoman, said Friday that the Biden administration is paying close attention to the situation and is “deeply concerned.” She called on the Chinese government to provide “independent, verifiable proof” of Peng’s whereabouts.
In recent days, several famous tennis players have joined the chorus demanding proof that Peng is safe.
“We need to see her live, holding the newspaper from today, or better yet, hitting the balls,” Patrick McEnroe, a former ESPN player and commentator, said in an interview on Friday. McEnroe coached Peng earlier in her World Team Tennis career.
“If none of this happens, and the people I talk to will say that if the Chinese really don’t care what we think and we never hear from Peng and have no idea, the only real way out is professional tennis that will do its best. tournaments from China, ”he said.
Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Coco Gauff are among the current female players who have posted on social media about their concern for Peng. Novak Djokovic shared a statement from the Association of Professional Tennis Players, of which he is a co-founder.
Martina Navratilova, a former champion who fled Czechoslovakia in 1975 to escape the communist government, also talks about Peng.
“I don’t believe a single word they say,” Navratilova said of the Chinese government in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of tricks going on here.”