WTA chief Steve Simon insists Peng Shuai’s latest interview ‘does not alleviate any of our concerns’ after Chinese communist minders were caught lurking in the background as she spoke to journalists in a Beijing hotel
- Chinese tennis star Peng Shaui spoke to foreign media at Winter Olympics
- She repeated her assertions that allegations of sexual abuse against former Chinese Vice-premier Zhang Gaoli were a ‘misunderstanding’
- Images taken during interview show Chinese officials lurking in the background
Peng Shuai has given her first interview with an independent media outlet – but it has cut little ice with women’s tennis authorities.
Steve Simon, Chief Executive of the WTA Tour, on Monday night gave a sceptical reaction to her latest appearance, in which she downplayed fears for her well-being.
The former Wimbledon doubles champion spoke in person with two reporters from French publication L’Equipe, accompanied by government minders.
Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis player who last year accused a senior politician of rape, sat down for an interview with foreign media in Beijing – with Chinese officials visible in the room
She repeated her assertions that allegations of sexual abuse she made in November via social media against former Chinese Vice-premier Zhang Gaoli were a ‘misunderstanding’.
Simon remains far from satisfied about the assurances she gave, and strongly doubts that she was speaking freely.
“Her recent in-person interview does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2nd,” he said. “We have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng – privately – to discuss her situation.
Peng Shaui is pictured attending the figure skating event at the Winter Olympics in Beijing
“We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai.”
L’Equipe did not try to hide the fact that the encounter, at a Beijing hotel, was held under strict pre-conditions, but its representatives could at least see at first hand that she appeared healthy.
Improbably, she maintained that reason for WTA Tour officials being unable to make contact with her had been down to a malfunction in their computer system.
Peng speaks to Chinese officials during a figure skating event which she attended on Monday
The interview seems to be part of an Chinese government strategy to allow her to make heavily-guarded appearances in which she sticks to certain lines.
There is an element of stalemate and with Peng Shuai, 36, maintaining that she is living normally, it presents a dilemma for the WTA Tour. The body has to consider its calendar for the rest of the year, which has not been revealed beyond Wimbledon.
At some point within the next two months it will need to firm up its schedule for the remainder of the season. This is partly to allow interested organisations to apply for the licenses to stage tournaments if they do not happen in China.
Peng accused Zhang Gaoli – the country’s former vice-premier – of sexual assault in November
Peng made the allegations in a lengthy social media post on Weibo which was quickly deleted
The current stance of Simon, supported by his Player Council, is not to allow any to take place in China due to concerns over the one-time doubles ace.
Ten were scheduled to take place in the People’s Republic in 2020 before the pandemic hit, including the lucrative year-end finals, and they leave a considerable gap to fill in the autumn.
Last year there were late additions to plug the gap which took place in Mexico, Italy, Romania and Kazakhstan.
The Chinese star had been seen and heard only via a few stage-managed public appearances
At the Australian Open, fans wore ‘where is Peng Shuai’ t-shirts in support of the tennis star