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"It is impossible to say that she is safe" - Journalist who interviewed Peng Shuai expresses doubts over her safety

One of the journalists who interviewed Peng Shuai recently has cast doubts over her safety in China
One of the journalists who interviewed Peng Shuai recently has cast doubts over her safety in China

Marc Ventouillac, one of the two journalists who interviewed Peng Shuai for French outlet L'Equipe recently, has revealed that he is still not certain whether the Chinese athlete is completely safe in the country.

Peng made headlines in November 2021 when she accused a high-ranking Chinese politician of sexual assault on social media site Weibo. The post was deleted within a short period of time, following which the Chinese disappeared from the public eye.

After resurfacing following a passionate social media campaign from the tennis fraternity, Peng Shuai walked back the original allegations. The former doubles World No. 1 has also been spotted in public occasionally, including at the ongoing Winter Olympics in Beijing, but that has not proved enough to convince people of her safety.

Doubts continue to linger over whether she is being controlled by the Chinese government from behind the scenes, especially as she has not left the country in the last three months.

Marc Ventouillac (L'Equipe) who spoke with Peng Shuai: "I'm not stupid, it's a communication plan [...] I'm sure that they prepared the interview and they prepared the answers. The CCP, the COC, I don't know [...] I'm not sure she is free, and nobody can say she is free now" twitter.com/YaxueCao/statu…

Only last week did Peng Shuai have her first real interaction with unbiased reporters from an independent party in L'Equipe. Speaking to the Associated Press, Ventouillac regarded it as more of a "propaganda" attempt by the CCP and the Chinese Olympic Committee to ensure that the issue was put to bed in the eyes of the public.

“It’s a part of communication, propaganda, from the Chinese Olympic Committee. It’s important for the Chinese Olympic Committee, for the Communist party and for many people in China to try to show, 'No, there is no Peng Shuai affair,'” Ventouillac said. "It is impossible to say that she is safe."

Furthermore, the meeting was a controlled interview, meaning that a Chinese government official was present in the room while Peng Shuai conversed with the reporters. Even though Ventouillac revea;ed that none of their questions were censored, he found the 36-year-old's answers to be rehearsed.

The French journalist further reckoned that Peng gave the answers that were expected of her, instead of speaking her mind.

"There was no censorship in the questions [that we submitted]. She answered our questions without hesitating - with, I imagine, answers that she knew. She knew what she was going to say," Ventouillac said. "But you can’t know whether it was formatted or something. She said what we expected her to say.”

The WTA has expressed the same concerns as Marc Ventouillac regarding the Peng Shuai situation

The WTA has the same concerns as Marc Ventouillac regarding Peng's safety
The WTA has the same concerns as Marc Ventouillac regarding Peng's safety

Like Marc Ventouillac, the WTA also cast doubt over the safety and freedom of Peng Shuai in China. In a statement released after the L'Equipe interview, WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon stated that the association's original concerns were yet to be alleviated.

"It's always good to see Peng Shuai, whether in an interview or attending the Olympic Games. However, the recent in-person interview does not alleviate out concerns about her initial post. We continue to hold firm on our position," he said in a statement.
“It’s always good to see Peng Shuai, whether in an interview or attending the Olympic Games. However, her recent in-person interview does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2nd. We continue to hold firm on our position."

The WTA had previously suspended all tournaments in China. Simon doubled down on his stance, demanding that China launch a formal investigation into the allegations if they wanted the suspension to be revoked.

"As we would do with any of our players globally, 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."

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Edited by Nihal Taraporvala
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