Italian Open organisers make blunder as Peng Shuai mistakenly named on schedule

Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

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While gearing up for the Italian Open, the tournament’s organisers made a rather embarrassing mistake. Sunday’s practice schedule was released ahead of the event and it included Peng Shuai, who has not featured on the WTA Tour since February 2020.

It would have been a pleasant surprise for fans to see the retired star back in action after accusing Zhang Gaoli, a retired Vice Premier of China, of sexual assault. She had been named on Sunday’s practice schedule for the tournament but the schedule was amended and she was replaced by world number 40 Zhang Shuai.

Tennis journalist Ben Rothenburg slammed the blunder as he wrote: “The practice schedule has been changed now, from Peng Shuai to Zhang Shuai. Sigh. What a f****p.” The 36-year-old announced she would be hanging up her racket in February 2022 and discussed the fallout from her 2021 social media post, in which her allegation against Gaoli was made.

On November 2 last year, Peng took to Chinese social media platform Weibo to accuse former vice premier Gaoli of sexual assault in a lengthy post which was then removed within half an hour. Gaoli, who served on China’s top ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee, between 2012 and 2017, has not responded to the allegation while a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegation when asked about the subject at the time.

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The doubles player had barely been seen before an appearance as a spectator at February’s Beijing Winter Olympics, with Chinese state media posting statements and photos they claimed were from Peng in the weeks after her allegation was published. 

During an interview with French publication L’Equipe, she thanked international athletes and Women’s Tennis Association players for reaching out, but said she had not expected the outcry and said the post was a ‘huge misunderstanding’.

Accompanied by Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan, who was there to translate Peng’s responses, the two-time doubles Grand Slam champion also claimed she had been safe the whole time, with little known of her whereabouts for the past three months after the allegation was made. “I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,” she added.

“There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world following this post. I don’t want the meaning of this post to be twisted anymore. And I don’t want any further media hype around it.” Addressing the concerns for her whereabouts and safety, she continued: “I never disappeared. Everyone could see me. I never disappeared. 

“It’s just that many people, like my friends or people from the IOC messaged me, and it was simply impossible to answer so many messages. But I’ve been always in close contact with my close friends.”

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