American tennis star Peng Shuai said she believed her voice was heard this week in Chinese state media statements suggesting that China may call on New Zealand to give free-kicks to Hsieh Su-wei, the Chinese woman who won the women’s tennis singles title in Hobart.
The messages were first reported on Wednesday by BuzzFeed, which noted that it “may be the most prominent instance of Chinese foreign policy influence ever on a sporting field.”
Ms. Shuai expressed concern that the statements could be a ploy to help her opponent, who, like her, is Chinese and is known in the tennis world as a dominant athlete.
“They’re trying to justify the tennis player’s win, which for me looks like a sacrifice for the Chinese,” she said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News. “It’s hard to stand up to them, let alone win.”
The US, which sent two athletes to New Zealand for the tournament, “refused to aid her, and thereby didn’t get any political messages,” Ms. Shuai added.
The New Zealand Herald reported earlier this week that NZT Sports CEO Jennifer Fisher was approached by a Chinese official in Hobart, and that the Chinese official suggested to Ms. Fisher that NZT Sports offer some sort of free-kicks to Ms. Hsieh Su-wei, who has supported the Dalai Lama and believes in the idea of China as a democratic, pluralistic society with a relatively free press.
This isn’t the first time that China has used free-kicks as a way to spread political messages. In February 2017, China broadcast a live broadcast from Pearl Island of its naval training with Argentina and Brasil, which featured free-kicks by players.
Read the full story at BuzzFeed News.
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