The case of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is emblematic. The 35-year-old female doubles champion at Wimbledon and Roland Garros suddenly disappeared in early November after accusing Zhang Gaoli, China’s former deputy prime minister, of forcing her into a sexual relationship.
She also confirmed having an affair with the politician, a married man 40 years her senior. Pen Shuai’s message was taken off the air. There were no demonstrations by Zhang Gaoli and the Chinese government. Numerous athletes and countries, including the United States and France, expressed concern about the tennis player’s fate.
The UN asked, in turn, for proof that she was safe and sound, while the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai (#OndeEstaPengShuai, in Portuguese) spread through social networks.
After nearly three weeks of absence, Peng reappeared at a dinner with friends on Saturday (20) and at a youth tennis tournament in Beijing on Sunday (21) as shown in photos and videos published by Chinese state media journalists. The images circulated around the world on the internet creating an impasse.
The president of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the German Thomas Bach, participated in a 30-minute videoconference with the tennis player. At that time, the top hat would be accompanied by the chairman of the IOC Athletes Commission, Emma Terho, and by the IOC member in China, Li Lingwei.
In a statement, the IOC said that the athlete said she is safe and well, living in her home in Beijing, but would like her privacy to be respected at this time.
The report also reported that Bach will be in Beijing in January and that he has invited Peng to dinner when he arrives in the city. And which Peng gladly accepted.
Several entities, however, continued to have doubts about the pressure that the tennis player may be suffering from the government authorities in her country for having denounced a powerful politician. China is a permanent target of allegations of human rights violations.
The criticism doesn’t spare the IOC, saying the entity seems to want to throw the dirt under the rug. Bach’s contact with the tennis player, according to the versions, would have as a backdrop to calm the spirits in relation to the Olympic Games at the beginning of next year.
The situation leaves a similar sensation caused by the Cold War, which had as protagonists on the one hand the then socialist Soviet Union, with the support of its satellites, and on the other, the capitalist United States and allies.
That confrontation caused geopolitical tension. It emerged shortly after the end of World War II, more precisely in 1947, and continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, and the end of the Soviet Union, in 1991.
In sport, during that world polarization, two relevant facts hit the two countries, leaders of their counterparts in the Cold War. The United States commanded the boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and received change at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Large international events, however, are not easy boycott targets. Small facts, on the contrary, sometimes end up going beyond borders, turning into huge controversies that go viral. The sport-political symbiosis is inherent in both activities that go hand in hand for good and for evil in human relationships. The mix is noticeable, but it has deniers, the believers that the two activities never mix.
Due to its popular penetration and worldwide repercussion, sport is a fertile field in international relations between countries and has the potential to make any type of information, relevant or not, explosive. This is the most likely hypothesis of this episode centered on Peng Shuai, which is still active on the courts.
Thus, similar situations tend to have varied interests (ideological, political, economic and others), which go beyond the sport and require great caution in any assessment. The confusion involving the Chinese tennis player, there is no doubt, has a similar smell to the Cold War.
Without reason or with it, everyone involved appeals to the subjective in the prosecution and defense. In this episode, tennis player Peng Shuai at least seems to be hitting her ball, already having in her curriculum the fabulous record of victorious journeys in international events.
During the disappearance of Peng Shuai, prominent political leaders pressured China, using as a weapon a possible boycott of the Winter Olympics, scheduled for February, in Beijing. Although the motivation was different (violation of human rights), it stirred the wave of the tennis player’s disappearance.
The tennis world is apprehensive and shows no confidence in the information. One said that the state-owned CGTN channel posted a screenshot on Twitter of an email attributed to Peng and allegedly aimed at Steve Simon, director of the WTA, and other executives at the women’s tennis association.
In it, Peng claimed that the sexual abuse allegations “were not true.” The matter had no further clarification. The WTA demanded a “transparent and fair” investigation of the athlete’s allegations. At the same time, Steve Simon highlighted on CNN the possibility of withdrawing tennis competitions from China.
US President Joe Biden surprised by saying last week that he was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games in China. No US government representative would attend the Olympic ceremonies, but nothing has been decided so far. He even invited Canada to join him.
Days earlier, Biden had his first direct conversations with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. At the White House, Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said US and Chinese leaders did not discuss the Olympics during their three-hour virtual meeting on Monday. Democratic and Republican politicians advocate a diplomatic boycott.
The US is known to accuse China of genocide against the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group that lives mainly in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
Ironically, China has responded to the threat of an Olympic boycott by ensuring that it refuses to “mix sport and politics” and that US human rights accusations are untrue and unfounded. Chinese diplomats spokesman Zhao Lijian added that politicizing the sport “is against the Olympic spirit.” Unbelievable, such a quote today.
After the president of the United States, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also admitted the possibility of a boycott of the Winter Olympics, linking it to human rights violations, the newspaper The Times reported on Saturday.