Tennis players take on Communist Party: Where is Peng Shuai?

A Tweet from Chinese journalist Shen Shiwei’s Twitter showing recent photos of Peng Shuai, which haven’t been independently verified by Reuters, seen in this screen grab obtained via social media on Saturday. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 November 2021

Tennis players take on Communist Party: Where is Peng Shuai?

  • Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, joined by tennis governing bodies, human rights groups, retired players and several athletes' lobbies try to turn their profiles into power
  • The effort to silence Peng reflects the Communist Party's determination to squelch criticism of its leaders and to prevent any organized public response

DUBAI: Some of the world’s most famous tennis players, distraught by the disappearance of colleague Peng Shuai, are challenging China’s Communist Party to get answers.
So far it’s a standoff with little visible impact as tennis greats like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — joined by tennis governing bodies, human rights groups, retired players, and several athletes’ lobbies — try to turn their profiles into power.
Peng, a two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 in doubles, disappeared after making allegations of sexual assault over two weeks ago against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, who was a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee and a lieutenant of General Secretary Xi Jinping.
Athletes may sense a pressure point.
China is just 2 1/2 months from hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics, which is facing a diplomatic boycott over allegations of crimes against humanity involving at least 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. NBA player Enes Kanter has been the most outspoken in defense of the Uyghurs, calling Xi a “brutal dictator.”
Peng’s case is unique. She is a star athlete and has a platform and credibility that few other women in China share. The effort to silence Peng reflects the Communist Party’s determination to squelch criticism of its leaders and to prevent any organized public response.
Athletes are especially sensitive politically because they are well-known and admired. The ruling party publicizes their victories, especially those of a three-time Olympian such as Peng, as evidence it is making China strong again.
China’s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly disavowed any knowledge of the case. Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told media on Friday the issue is “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”
Peng wrote a lengthy social media post on Nov. 2 in which she said she was forced to have sex three years ago with Zhang. The post was quickly deleted from Peng’s verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform. But screenshots of the explosive accusations were shared on the Internet.
Athletes have been weighing in ever since.
“She’s one of our tennis champions, a former world No. 1, and clearly it’s concerning. I hope she’s safe,” Federer told Sky Italia on Saturday. “The tennis family sticks together and I’ve always told my children as well that the tennis family is my second family. … I just want her to be OK and that she’s safe and that we hear something hopefully soon.”
Nadal told the French newspaper L’Equipe, “The most important thing is to find out whether she is OK. All of us in the tennis family hope to see her back with us soon.”
French tennis player Nicolas Mahut said he won’t play in China if the situation isn’t resolved, and he added that the International Olympic Committee needs to do more.
“It’s really embarrassing to not speak out. They should say something a few months before (the) Olympics in China,” Mahut said. “I hope they will do something soon.”
Players have been emboldened by the unequivocal support of the Women’s Tennis Association and its chairman and CEO Steve Simon, who has threatened to pull the WTA’s events out of China. That means almost a dozen next year, including the WTA final.
“There’s too many times in our world today when you get into issues like this that we let business, politics, money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong,” Simon said in an interview on CNN.
“And we’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it because ... this is bigger than the business.”
A statement from Wimbledon said the sport’s most prestigious tournament is “united with the rest of tennis in the need to understand that Peng Shuai is safe.”
“We have been working in support of the WTA’s efforts to establish her safety through our relationships behind the scenes,” the All England Club added.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by reports that tennis player Peng Shuai appears to be missing, and we join the calls for the PRC to provide independent, verifiable proof of her whereabouts. Women everywhere deserve to have reports of sexual assault taken seriously and investigated.”
Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, said Friday it was calling for “an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”
Global Athlete, an advocacy group, has asked the Switzerland-based IOC to suspend the Chinese Olympic Committee until Peng’s safety is guaranteed.
“The IOC must use its substantial leverage to ensure that the international community is provided proof of Peng’s whereabouts,” Global Athlete head Rob Koehler said.
Despite Peng being a former Olympian, the IOC has remained quiet. A sports business, it derives 91 percent of its income from selling broadcast rights and sponsorships. But it prefers to cast itself as a non-government organization whose role is to defend high-minded ideas like “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” which appears in its Olympic Charter.
Emma Terho, the newly elected head of an IOC’s Athletes’ Commission that is supposed to represent the interests of Olympic athletes, has not commented. The IOC always says athletes are its first priority, but there is growing pressure from some athletes to get a larger slice of the IOC’s billion-dollar pie.
“Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature,” the IOC said in a statement. “This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
It also said it has received assurances that Peng is “safe.”
The World Olympians Association declined to issue a statement. It claims to represent 100,000 living Olympians. It was founded by Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who heads the IOC preparations for the Beijing Olympics which begin Feb. 4. IOC President Thomas Bach is the honorary president.
“The IOC has more leverage than any other organization with the pending Winter Olympic Games,” Koehler of Global Athletes wrote to AP. “They need to use that now. Athletes going to these Games are watching how the IOC will protect athletes.”


Minnows Comoros send Ghana crashing out of Africa Cup of Nations

Updated 23 sec ago

Minnows Comoros send Ghana crashing out of Africa Cup of Nations

  • Ahmed Mogni, who plays for French third-tier club Annecy, scored the winner when he pushed a low cross from Ben Djaloud past goalkeeper Joseph Wollacott
  • Comoros finish third in the group and must wait until Thursday to know if they are among the best four third-placed teams to get last 16 spots
YAOUNDÉ: Four-time champions Ghana were eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations after crashing 3-2 to minnows Comoros in Group C on Tuesday in Garoua.
The Black Stars had captain Andre Ayew sent off after 25 minutes and, after wiping out a two-goal deficit, lost when Comoros’ Ahmed Mogni scored his second goal five minutes from time.
Morocco and Gabon drew 2-2 in Yaounde in the same group to retain first and second places respectively and qualify for the round of 16, which kicks off on Sunday.
Comoros, representing a tiny island nation off the south east coast of Africa, finished third and must wait until Thursday to know if they are among the best four third-placed teams, who get last 16 spots.
A disastrous night for Ghana started after just four minutes when Serbia-based El Fardou Ben Mohamed fired the first-time qualifiers in front.
Mogni, who plays for French third-tier club Annecy, added a second just past the hour only for 10-man Ghana to hit back through goals from Richmond Boakye and Alexander Djiku.
Mogni struck again when he pushed a low cross from Ben Djaloud past goalkeeper Joseph Wollacott to give the islanders a stunning triumph.
In Yaounde, Gabon led twice through Jim Allevinah and a Nayef Aguerd own-goal while Sofiane Boufal and Achraf Hakimi netted for Morocco.

Messi back in full training for PSG after Covid

Updated 18 January 2022

Messi back in full training for PSG after Covid

  • The Argentina attacker was seen warming up with his PSG teammates in a video clip posted by the club on Twitter
  • Messi contracted the virus whilst on holiday in his hometown of Rosario in Argentina during Ligue 1's winter break

PARIS: Lionel Messi was back in full training with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday for the first time since testing positive for Covid-19 at the end of last year.
The Argentina attacker was seen warming up with his PSG teammates in a video clip posted by the club on Twitter.
Messi contracted the virus whilst on holiday in his hometown of Rosario in Argentina during Ligue 1’s winter break.
PSG announced on January 5 that he was back in France after testing negative but the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is only now feeling fit enough to resume normal service.
He missed the French Cup match against Vannes and two league games, the 1-1 draw with Lyon and last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat of Brest.
Messi’s emotional move from Barcelona to the French capital side has not gone according to the script he, the fans, and his new employers would have liked.
Messi has scored only one goal in 11 league appearances for PSG, although he has netted five times in the Champions League.
He has missed a total of 10 Ligue 1 games since August through injuries, late return from Argentina duty, and then Covid-19.
He resumed individual training last Thursday, after which he told his fans on Instagram: “It has taken me longer than I thought to be OK but I’m almost recovered and I’m looking forward to getting back on the field.”
Messi could make his league return against Reims on Sunday.


Trial of former Manchester United player Giggs delayed until August

Updated 18 January 2022

Trial of former Manchester United player Giggs delayed until August

  • The former Wales national manager is charged with controlling and coercive behaviour and assault against his ex-girlfriend and her sister
  • Giggs, 48, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains on bail

LONDON: The trial of former Manchester United soccer player Ryan Giggs has been delayed to August 8 due to a lack of court space, the BBC reported after a hearing on Tuesday.
The former Wales national manager is charged with controlling and coercive behavior and assault against his ex-girlfriend and her sister. The trial at Manchester Crown Court had been due to start on Jan. 24.
Giggs, 48, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains on bail.
“Unfortunately it has become necessary to vacate this trial from the list,” the BBC quoted Judge Hilary Manley as saying. “The reason for this is because there is not a court available to accommodate this trial.
“Due to the large backlog of court cases, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the need for social distancing, this is a situation which is a daily reality for the criminal courts.”
Giggs’ lawyer said his client was “extremely disappointed.”
The former player was charged last April when a magistrate’s court heard a prosecutor read out a summary of charges including that he struck Kate Greville with a “deliberate headbutt.”
He was first arrested in the case and released on bail in Nov. 2020.
Giggs made 963 appearances over 23 years for Manchester United as a player, a club record, winning a haul of honors including 13 Premier League winner’s medals and two UEFA Champions League winner’s medals.
He represented Wales as a player 64 times between 1991 and 2007 and took over as national coach in 2018.


Murray roars into round two as Medvedev sets up Kyrgios clash

Updated 18 January 2022

Murray roars into round two as Medvedev sets up Kyrgios clash

  • Top-10 seeds Garbine Muguruza, Iga Swiatek and Anett Kontaveit all made comfortable starts to their Melbourne title charges
  • "It's amazing to be back and winning a five-set battle like that, I couldn't ask for any more," said Murray

MELBOURNE: Former world number one Andy Murray turned back the clock in typically combative style and favorite Daniil Medvedev set up a blockbuster second-round showdown with Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
In the women’s draw, top-10 seeds Garbine Muguruza, Iga Swiatek and Anett Kontaveit all made comfortable starts to their Melbourne title charges, while Simona Halep and Aryna Sabalenka also won despite struggling with their serves.
Emma Raducanu, the US Open champion, was also victorious on her tournament debut but there was defeat at the first hurdle for her fellow 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez — the woman Raducanu beat in the Flushing Meadows decider.
Canada’s Fernandez, the 23rd seed, went down 6-4, 6-2 to Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis, to the delight of the home crowd.
After Sunday’s deportation of men’s defending champion and top seed Novak Djokovic, the first Grand Slam of the year is now in full swing and many are eager to move on from the visa saga.
That is easier said than done and Tennis Australia (TA), organizers of the so-called “Happy Slam,” said in a statement Tuesday that they “deeply regret the impact” it has had on the other players.
“As the Australian tennis family, we recognize that recent events have been a significant distraction for everyone,” TA said, without mentioning Djokovic by name.
If it has been a distraction for Murray, he did not show it.
The 34-year-old, there as a wildcard, showed all the fighting qualities that made him a three-time Grand Slam champion.
His epic five-set victory over 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili was hugely symbolic — the Briton departed Melbourne Park in 2019 not knowing if he would ever be back because of hip trouble.
But here he was, rolling back the years and heading into round two.
“It’s amazing to be back and winning a five-set battle like that, I couldn’t ask for any more,” said Murray.
There was no such problem for Russia’s Medvedev, the second seed and favorite to lift his second major, who made light work of 91st-ranked Henri Laaksonen on Rod Laver Arena, dismantling the Swiss 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3).
With Djokovic out of the picture and Roger Federer not in Melbourne because of injury, the draw has opened up for the 25-year-old Medvedev and Spanish great Rafael Nadal.
Medvedev, who lost last year’s final in Melbourne to Djokovic but then beat the Serbian in the US Open final in September, plays combustible but talented Australian showman Kyrgios in round two.
Another of the “Next Gen” young talents challenging the “Big Three” of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer is Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The fourth seed was a comfortable winner in three sets over practice partner Mikael Ymer to get his tournament up and running.
In the women’s draw, Spanish world number three Muguruza, a finalist at Melbourne Park two years ago, eased past 77th-ranked Frenchwoman Clara Burel 6-3, 6-4.
There was also little trouble for Kontaveit, despite some early nerves, and Swiatek, but Romania’s Halep was far from comfortable.
The former number one labored into round two 6-4, 6-3 after an error-strewn clash with Poland’s Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks.
Second seed Sabalenka, who was reduced to tears and serving underarm in a disastrous lead-up to Melbourne, had Mark Philippoussis to thank after she revealed the Australian former world number eight helped iron out some of her serving problems.
She was far from perfect on her serve but survived to beat Storm Sanders 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
In the last action of the day, Raducanu ousted the American Sloane Stephens — a former US Open champion — 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 in a performance that will make the Briton’s rivals sit up and take notice.


Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says

Updated 18 January 2022

Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says

  • ‘Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain’
  • Novak Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella

MADRID: World men’s tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic will have to comply with Spanish health rules to be able to travel to Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday.
Answering a question on whether Djokovic would be allowed to enter Spain to compete after Australia deported him for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, Sanchez said: “Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was visiting Spain on Monday and stood beside Sanchez during the news conference, also insisted the different rules in the different countries must be respected. “We all have to abide by them, no matter who we are,” he said.
Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella. He spent a few days in late December and early January and video footage showed him training there.
Spanish rules currently require people to have either a vaccine certificate, a PCR negative test or a certificate of having recovered from COVID-19. The country imposes strict quarantines on people who test positive.
During the same news conference, the Spanish Prime Minister made an impassioned call for vaccination. Even though vaccination is not mandatory in Spain, the vaccination rate is one of the highest in Europe.