Tennis is in the news again and this time it's not Emma Raducanu's prodigious feats making the headlines. Chinese sensation Peng Shuai, a onetime Wimbledon doubles champion, has gone missing a fortnight after accusing a former top party official of forcing her to have sex after playing tennis at his home.
Unlike the craven apparatchiks of the International Olympic Committee or the National Basketball Association, the Women's Tennis Association has threatened to pull tournaments out of China, with the men's Association of Tennis Professionals demanding clarity from the Beijing authorities. It's refreshing stuff from a top sports body, with Shuai's fellow professionals queuing up to join the #WhereIsPengShuai protest. Serena Williams has declared 'This must be investigated and we must not stay silent' with Andy Murray, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic among those declaring support.
And as the spotlight shines on China and sport, there are increasingly loud calls for the West to boycott next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing. Such moves are being led from Washington, where President Biden is understood to shortly be declaring a 'full diplomatic boycott' over the regime's human rights record. Diplomatic sources have told Steerpike that Washington is seeking support from 'international partners' over its stance, with the UK foremost in their minds. And while Boris Johnson is a self-declared 'Sinophile,' opinion in Westminster has turned increasingly hostile to the idea of British bigwigs pressing flesh with the CCP's finest.
One Tory backbencher, Nus Ghani, attacked the games as the 'Genocide Olympics' with Labour similarly skeptical. Stephen Kinnock, shadow minister for Asia and the Pacific told Mr S: 'For several months now Lisa Nandy and I have been calling on the UK Government to implement a total political and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games. It would be utterly demeaning if the Royals, diplomats and politicians were made to rub shoulders with those responsible for these appalling crimes against humanity. The disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai has also raised serious questions about the way in which the Chinese state treats its own sportspeople.'
Mr S understands that there is a battle within the Foreign Office over a Beijing boycott, with the department's diplomats reluctant to endorse such a stance despite the concerns of Liz Truss, one of the more hawkish members of the Cabinet. In the battle between mandarins and ministers, Steerpike suspects Washington will win out.