Where is Peng Shuai?
Best Evidence or Verifiable Proof?
On December 1, 2021, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, following the growing concerns about the safety and whereabouts of former World No. 1 doubles tennis star, Peng Shuai.
On November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai released a 1,600 word post on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo, which set out detailed allegations of sexual assault against the former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. Peng understood that going public may be dangerous, but did it anyway, stating that “even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you.” Following the publication of Peng’s statement, it was removed from the internet. Simultaneously, Peng appeared to vanish from public view. Peng’s safety quickly became a matter of international concern, sparked by fellow tennis players like Bianca Andreescu, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
China’s foreign arm of State TV issued a statement in English that attributed to Peng retracting her statement, which further heightened concerns of Peng’s safety and censorship. The public was given a glimmer of hope last Sunday, November 21, when she participated in a video call with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach. While she explained in her IOC statement that “she is safe and well, living at home in Beijing, but would like her privacy to be respected at this time,” the WTA could not help but maintain “serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.”
The suspension of all WTA tournaments in China is a strong stance that justice for Peng, equality of women, free speech and the importance of speaking out against sexual assault is more important than any financial ramifications. While the WTA has taken the stance that in good conscience it can’t send its “athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,” will this have any impact on the upcoming 2022 Olympics in China? The IOC unanimously determined that Peng Shuai is “fine,” stating that the video call is "the best evidence we have at the moment." Will other organizations and countries determine that the “best evidence” is enough in an effort to avoid risking the success of the 2022 Olympics? Or will the European Union’s call for “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe prevail, and the WTA be the first of many to suspend participation in China?