It was the interview that many sports writers had been waiting for: Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star, was prepared and ready to speak with Western media for the first time about charges she made of forced sex with a former top-ranking Communist Party member, which sparked a global outpouring of concern for her safety.
Marc Ventouillac, one of two journalists from the French sports daily L’Equipe who talked with Peng this week in a restricted interview arranged by Chinese Olympic authorities, says he’s still not sure if she’s free to say and do anything she wants.
In English, he said, “It’s impossible to say.” “This interview does not prove that Peng Shuai is not an issue.”
China’s aim, on the other hand, was plain to him: by allowing the interview during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Chinese officials looked to be hoping to lay the dispute to rest so that the event would not be tainted.
“It’s part of the Chinese Olympic Committee’s communication, propaganda,” Ventouillac told The Associated Press on Tuesday, a day after L’Equipe published its exclusive.
“They may show: ‘OK, there is no problem with Peng Shuai,’ by giving an interview to a major European publication. See? Journalists are welcome to come and ask as many questions as they like.’
The interview, as well as a meal with IOC President Thomas Bach and appearances at Olympic venues, have cast a purposeful and controlled focus on the three-time Olympian and former top-ranked doubles player. Peng sat with Bach on Tuesday as she watched Eileen Gu, an American-born Chinese freestyle skier, win gold in the women’s large air event.
The goal is ostensibly to answer the issue that other players and fans across the world have been asking on social media: “Where is Peng Shuai?”
“I believe it is critical for the Chinese Olympic Committee, the Communist Party, and many Chinese people to demonstrate that there is no Peng Shuai affair,” Ventouillac added.
The interview “does not assuage any of our worries” regarding the charges she made in November, according to the women’s professional tennis tour.
“Peng took a courageous step in publicly alleging that she was sexually attacked by a top Chinese government representative,” the WTA’s chief executive, Steve Simon, said in a statement. “We have demanded a formal inquiry into the claims by the proper authorities, as we would with any of our players throughout the world, and a chance for the WTA to meet with Peng – discreetly — to address her position,” the WTA said.
Peng “appears to be in good health,” according to Ventouillac. To get the interview, which was coordinated with the support of the IOC by China’s Olympic Committee, L’Equipe agreed to provide questions ahead of time and publish her comments verbatim, in question-and-answer format. Despite being given a half-hour, Ventouillac claims they got nearly twice that time and were able to ask all of the questions they wanted, in addition to the “8 or 10” they had pre-submitted.
“The questions were not censored,” he stated.
Peng’s statements were translated from Chinese by a Chinese Olympic official who participated in on the meeting. The newspaper then engaged a translator in Paris to confirm that the statements it published in French on Monday were accurate. Since the charge, it was her first sit-down interview with non-Chinese-language media.
“She answered our inquiries without hesitation, presumably with answers she already knew. “She knew exactly what she was going to say,” stated Ventouillac. “However, you have no way of knowing if it was formatted or not.” She stated exactly what we were expecting her to say.”
“We began by asking questions about tennis because it is her area of expertise. It isn’t a contentious issue. He stated it helped her relax and unwind. “We then moved on to questions concerning the ‘Peng Shuai issue,’ and I got the feeling from her eyes — and my colleague Sophie had the same impression — that she was growing more attentive and nervous.” A brow furrowed. With a squint. So she was being cautious in her questioning and, I believe, in her replies.”
One of L’Equipe’s goals for the interview, according to Ventouillac, was to demonstrate Peng face-to-face that “she is not alone” and that people all over the globe are worried about her.
He feels that worldwide support has aided in her protection during the crisis. Ventouillac stated that someone not well-known outside China would likely be imprisoned for making such a claim against a prominent figure.
Peng said in a long article published in November that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, forced her to have sex despite her repeated refusals. The statement, which was published on her verified account on Weibo, a popular Chinese social networking site, also stated that they had intercourse seven years ago and that she afterwards developed love emotions for him. Zhang has not responded to the allegations.
She added, “Originally, I buried all of this in my heart.” “Why would you track me down, bring me to your place, and compel us to have sexual relations?”
Her account was shortly deactivated. Peng told L’Equipe that she deleted it but didn’t elaborate on why, other than to remark, “Because I wanted to.”
She also stated that the post was misinterpreted.
“Do you mean sexual assault?” “I never stated anyone forced me to submit to a sexual assault,” she told the publication.
“This post caused a great deal of confusion in the outside world,” she added. “I hope the message of this post is no longer twisted.”