A journalist who conducted the first face-to-face interview in several months with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai believes it is still uncertain that her freedom to speak and travel has not been compromised.
Controversy has shrouded Peng and the Chinese government, after allegations of sexual misconduct were levelled against a former senior party member by the tennis star.
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Various high-profile tennis players and the WTA have consistently called on the Chinese government to appropriately demonstrate that she is safe.
Peng appeared at various events prior to the beginning of the Beijing Winter Olympics, where she has also made a series of appearances - but always accompanied by government officials.
She was interviewed earlier this week by Marc Ventouillac, one of two reporters from well known European sports outlet L'Equipe to sit down with the Chinese player during the Games.
The interview, one of few granted to media outside of Chinese government sources, has not allayed concerns that Peng's safety has been put at risk.
A photo of Peng posted by the reporter showed Chinese officials still accompanying the tennis star for the interview with Ventoulliac.
"This interview don't give proof that there is no problem with Peng Shuai," he said.
"It's a part of communication, propaganda, from the Chinese Olympic Committee.
"With an interview to a big European newspaper, they can show: 'OK, there is no problem with Peng Shuai. See? Journalists (came), they can ask all the questions they wanted.'"
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Peng, a former Wimbledon doubles champion, said the whole saga had been a 'huge misunderstanding' in earlier interviews, claiming she had deleted her claims herself.
The interview, as well as a dinner Peng had with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and appearances she made at Olympic venues have shone a deliberate and controlled spotlight on the three-time Olympian and former top-ranked doubles player.
Concerns remain over Peng Shuai despite L'Equipe interview
Ostensibly, the aim is to put to rest the question that fellow players and fans around the world have been posting online: Where is Peng Shuai?
"It's important, I think, 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.
The women's professional tennis tour said the interview "does not alleviate any of our concerns" about the allegations she made in November.
"Peng took a bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader," Steve Simon, the WTA's chief executive, said in a statement.
"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."
Ventouillac said Peng "seems to be healthy."
To secure the interview, organised through China's Olympic Committee with help from the IOC, L'Equipe agreed to send questions in advance and publish her responses verbatim, in question-and-answer form.
Originally allotted a half-hour, Ventouillac said they ended up getting nearly double that and asked all the questions they wanted, beyond the "8 or 10" they pre-submitted.
"There was no censorship in the questions," he said.
"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."
"We started by asking questions about tennis because that's her domain, her field. It's not controversial. It helped her relax, unwind," he said.
"We then got to the questions about the 'Peng Shuai affair' itself and there, my sense from her looks — and my colleague Sophie had about the same impression — was that she was being more attentive, becoming more nervous.
"A raised eyebrow. A squint. So she was being careful with the questions and also, I think, careful with her responses."
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