Weeks before Winter Olympics, disappearance of Chinese tennis star spells disaster for Beijing

Beijing is facing a storm of its own making, as the global women’s tennis community rises up to challenge Chinese authorities for silencing one of its peers, the CNN reported.

Peng Shuai, 35, a two-time former Grand Slam doubles champion, has vanished from public eye ever since she accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, of coercing her into sex at his home in a since-deleted social media post on November 2.

Since then, Chinese censors have been diligently scrubbing her name and even the vaguest references to her allegations from the internet, the report said.

But the silencing campaign has failed to work outside of China. Over the past few days, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and some of its biggest stars, both past and present, have spoken out in solidarity with Peng, demanding to know her whereabouts.

Concerns have only grown after the Chinese state media on Wednesday released the screenshot of an email, purportedly from Peng and sent to the WTA, walking back her allegations and claiming “everything is fine.”

In an interview with CNN, WTA chief Steve Simon described the email as a “staged statement of some type”.

He also declared that the association is “at a crossroads” with China, threatening to pull business out of the country if Peng’s safety is not guaranteed and her allegations not properly investigated.

And the reverberations don’t just end in women’s tennis, as male tennis players have also joined the Twitter campaign, so have the football stars.

With the Winter Olympics in Beijing less than three months away, analysts say the controversy, if unresolved, could snowball into an unprecedented showdown between the wider sports community and Beijing, the report said.

“Sports fans around the world will be paying attention to this story, which includes billions of people,” said William Nee, a research and advocacy coordinator at the NGO, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

“This is an absolutely looming disaster for the Chinese government. Every day that gets closer to the Winter Olympics, the disaster gets bigger and bigger for them — if they don’t resolve this,” the report said.