Peng Shuai, who lost a 4-set match to Australia’s Ashleigh Barty on Thursday at the Australian Open, returned to China on Friday to attend an exhibition at Wuhan University.
But after waiting more than an hour for her score to be posted, fans and some media asked where she was during the match.
The answers—where exactly, whom and whom to please—bordered on surreal, with Peng not offering a satisfactory reply.
Censorship has a history in China, and clearly some officials wanted to make sure Shuai kept her answers to the question to a minimum, possibly to avoid her being compared to disgraced swimmer, drug cheat and bribery case site, Bo Xilai, now the prime minister’s adviser, or disgraced former Communist Party boss Zhou Yongkang.
Officials reportedly waited for Peng Shuai to finish an interview to scroll the match score onto the screen before ordering that the scroll be removed, said an official in an event broadcast live on a Chinese sports network, Sina
Censors censor responses before crowd Q&A
The crowd of fans waited more than an hour for the score to be posted, when Peng responded, “It’s 5-3”.
“Would you prefer not to mention the score, and just think what you want?” said a former player who reportedly joined the crowd, only to be reprimanded by an official for asking “uncouth” questions.
“You know how to respond better,” he was quoted as saying.
The official said Shuai was present in the broadcast studio and explained that they had a technical problem and had forgotten to display the score on the arena’s scoreboard screen.
They issued a clear warning:
“Please be careful so you don’t exceed the national policy,” the official said, adding that the first question would be ignored.
Peng herself responded: “I come from this background. Everything is not straightforward, I know, but I try to fight. I am not a rival but a friend. I have another country behind me. It is a great honor to be on this court and play in front of this big crowd.”
She talked about using her experience in rehab to help overcome the loss—something that she is yet to disclose.
Peng later tweeted that she’d been “highly pressured” during the match, but “thankful” for the opportunity to defend her title and “wanted to play just as hard”.