'I Never Disappeared': China Trots out Tennis Star Peng Shuai as Genocide Olympics Mascot

Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai, who went missing in November after accusing the former head of China’s Olympic Committee of rape, resurfaced this weekend to promote the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, issuing an interview where she again denied allegations and expressing excitement over winter sports.

Peng sat down for an interview in Beijing with the French magazine L’Equipe, most recently involved in another tennis controversy – sending a journalist to interview top men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic while the latter was allegedly infected with Chinese coronavirus. Djokovic reportedly did not reveal his status to the journalist.

L’Equipe, forcing a government official into the mix who was tasked with translating her remarks. L’Equipe provided only the government official’s translation of her comments, not Peng’s original Mandarin-language comments. The magazine revealed in publishing the interview that Beijing demanded it submit its questions to Peng in advance and that she did not answer at least one question – if the social media post in which she accused former Chinese Olympics head Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into sex had resulted in trouble with the government.

The original post appeared on the Chinese government-controlled site Weibo. Peng addressed the post to Zhang. Why, she asked, had he “brought me to your home and forced me to engage in sexual activities with you”? The post included repeated references to her refusing to have sex with him on prior occasions but concluded confessing a consensual affair; Zhang is married to another woman.

Peng also wrote in the post that she felt suicidal, but “didn’t have the courage to die.”

Spectators wearing “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts, referring to the former doubles world number one from China, are pictured in the stands during the women’s singles final match of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2022. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty)

The post disappeared within about half an hour and Weibo has since faced a $500,000 fine for publishing “information forbidden by law and regulations.”

“I would like to know: why such concern? … I never said anyone sexually assaulted me,” the Chinese government official said that Peng said in the L’Equipe interview.

“There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world following this post. I don’t want the meaning of this post to be twisted anymore. And I don’t want any further media hype around it,” Peng insisted. “Sexual assault? I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way.”

Peng, according to the government translator, also insisted that she “never disappeared” and that her original Weibo post disappeared because she “wanted to” delete it.

“It’s just that many people, like my friends or people from the IOC [International Olympic Committee] messaged me, and it was simply impossible to answer so many messages. But I’ve been always in close contact with my close friends,” the translator claimed that Peng said. “I talked to them, I answered their emails, I also talked with the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association].”

The government translator claimed that Peng said that WTA concerns about her wellbeing were caused by IT problems on the WTA website, not on the fact that she accused a powerful Communist Party official of rape and immediately vanished.

The translator concluded by claiming that Peng was excited about the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics – which is facing a global popular boycott movement in part due to the Chinese government’s suspected abuse of Peng.

“There are many events I’d like to attend, even though there are many sports and many techniques I don’t understand. I’m very excited to attend these competitions,” the translator said that Peng said.

Following the publication of the interview, the IOC – which attempted to help diminish outrage surrounding Peng’s disappearance in November – announced on Monday that its officials had met with Peng in Beijing in person and that she was well.

She was also extremely excited about winter sports, which she had not previously shown any public interest in, according to the IOC.

Peng Shuai is on display in the background as Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of China Change, testifies before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on February 3, 2022 in Washington, DC. CECC held a hearing on “The Beijing Olympics and the Faces of Repression.” (Alex Wong/Getty)

“The IOC President [Thomas Bach] has held a face-to-face meeting with Peng Shuai, as announced last November. He was joined by the former Chair of the Athletes’ Commission and IOC member Kirsty Coventry. The meeting took place on Saturday over dinner at the Olympic Club in Beijing,” a statement on Monday read.

“Peng Shuai informed the President that she would attend several events at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 over the coming days,” the IOC claimed. “Later that evening, she and Kirsty Coventry attended the mixed curling match between China and Norway.”

The conversation with Peng reportedly consisted of sharing “their common experience as athletes at the Olympic Games.”

The IOC did not mention the rape controversy or Peng’s disappearance in its statement.

The Chinese government translator’s claim that Peng denied ever accusing Zhang of rape echoes similar statements Peng allegedly made in December, after her disappearance prompted the WTA to suspend all business with China.

“First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point,” Peng reportedly said in a video.

As she did to L’Equipe, Peng also insisted at the time that the alleged rape as a “private matter,” even though she prompted the controversy by discussing it publicly. Peng has never denied that she was the one who wrote and published the Weibo post.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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