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Chinese Tennis Player is Missing, Raises Political Concerns

Chinese Tennis Player is Missing, Raises Political Concerns

Peng Shuai disappeared after she accused China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

Tennis superstar Peng Shuai has not been seen in public since she alleged that China’s former Vice Premier, Zhang Ghaoli, committed sexual assault against her at his house.

Peng Shuai made this accusation on November 2 through a social media post. While she deleted the post almost immediately after, the screenshots went viral on the internet.

Zhang Gaoli is one of China’s most senior officials. He served as Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China between 2013 and 2018; he is also a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee.

Tennis’s top players have raised their concern with the situation, including tennis’ greatest player of all time, Roger Federer.

Federer told Sky Italia that Peng Shuai is “one of our tennis champions, a former world No. 1, and clearly, it’s concerning.” 

Federer hopes that she’s safe and that the tennis community does everything they can to assure that, which is why he has been in touch with the Association of Tennis Players (ATP) President Andrea Gaudenzi. 

“I just want her to be OK and that she’s safe and that we hear something hopefully soon,” he said.

“I’ve always told my children as well that the tennis family is my second family. I’ve been on tour for 20-25 years, and I love the tour, I love the people that are there, (they) are special, the players as well, and she’s one of them,” Federer added.

Similarly, tennis star Rafael Nadal talked to L’Equipe, the French newspaper. Nadal said, “I follow the news and read the articles about Peng Shuai. Even though I don’t have all the information, the most important thing, in this case, is whether she is okay. All of us in the tennis family hope to see her soon with us.”

On this issue, world number one Novak Djokovic said, “the entire tennis community must bring their support to Peng and his family. We need to make sure it’s safe; because it would be strange to have tournaments played in China if this situation were not resolved. I understand why the WTA has taken this position.”

In response to these accusations, the Chinese authorities have been denying any knowledge of the situation through their state media, refusing the claims of Pen’s disappearance.

For instance, Zhao Lijian, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said, “ it is not a diplomatic question, and I’m not aware of the situation.”

Moreover, this week the Chinese state media posted a series of tweets with photos and videos of Peng Shuai. 

However, in the videos, Shuai never made any statement; and this would not be the first time a communist regime does a PR campaign of this type with its state-owned media.

Ultimately, the only way to know that Peng Shuai is safe is to see her outside the country addressing the media. If she is indeed safe and sound, then she should do that. Otherwise, the tennis association has to keep publishing for a resolution on this matter. 

Overall, it is worth finishing this piece by noting that athletes like Federer and Nadal are doing what they should in this situation. They are not avoiding the topic for financial reasons but instead being at the forefront of it. Other players should learn from it, especially NBA players who have time and time again avoided the Chinese subject for financial reasons. 

By Jorge Jraissati

Jorge Jraissati is a Venezuelan economist and freedom advocate. He is the Director of Alumni Programs of Students For Liberty, an NGO advancing the ideas of a free society in over 100 countries. Beyond SFL, Jorge is a research consultant for IESE Business School, an economist from the Wilkes Honors College, and the President of Venezuelan Alliance, a policy group specialized in the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis. Jorge is a weekly columnist at Freedom Today Network.