December 3, 2021 | SPORTS | By Zeke Lloyd | Photo by Anil Jergens
In the last month, the world has only seen international tennis star Peng Shuai a few times. The Chinese athlete went missing on Nov. 2, 2021. On that day she posted a long message on Weibo, a platform similar to Twitter, accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2018.
The post, and all references to it, were scrubbed from the internet in half an hour. Most references to Peng Shuai were also erased. She was not seen or heard from for almost two weeks.
The United Nations and the United States both immediately expressed concerns. Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government gave a prompt response. Zhang Gaoli remains silent to this day.
After leaving office in 2018, his whereabouts and activity are now unknown. The first acknowledgement from within China came 12 days after her disappearance. Hu Xijin, chief editor of Communist Party newspaper, The Global Times, released three videos featuring Peng. None were successful in assuaging fears that she is being held against her will.
The first showed her at dinner with a coach. The short, awkward clip included a discussion of what the date would be on the following day, raising suspicions that the event was staged.
The second video focused on a masked person, who appears to be Peng, walking into a store with a sign indicating the current month is November. The day of the month cannot be deciphered. The third video showed her as a spectator of a tennis event in China; it does not indicate that she attended of her own autonomy.
Hu Xijin also released photos of Peng wearing pajamas and holding stuffed animals in her bedroom, but her age in the photos does not match her current age. In addition, China’s broadcasting system released a statement, allegedly from her, informing listeners that she was safe.
The world remained unconvinced.
The lack of credible evidence that she was safe and able to act of her own accord drew attention from both the tennis community and International Olympics Committee. Women’s Tennis Association Chairman and CEO, Steve Simon, was not content with what had been presented. He continued to demand proof that she was safe.
A final item was released on Nov. 21. Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, shared a photo taken which depicted him on a video call with Peng Shuai. A Chinese sports official is also present. Bach did not go into details about the interaction. Some international officials, like Steve Simon, are still not convinced.
She has not reappeared since that call.
Pressure to move the 2022 Olympics, which Zhang himself helped ensure would take place in Beijing, existed even prior to the events involving Peng. Two protestors demonstrated at the ceremonial transition of Olympic flame in Olympia.
Movements against a Chinese Olympic Games cite the country’s civil and human rights abuses: Uyghur internment and reeducation, the suppression of free press, and the disappearance of political dissidents.
The IOC has pushed back; it is dependent on revenue from the games. It could be logistically and financially difficult for the event to be relocated elsewhere with only a little over a year before the event begins.
With Peng Shuai’s disappearance, the number of protests against a Beijing Olympics have increased. So have demands for her reappearance. China remains silent.