China’s Chinese tennis team in deep trouble over barcode tweet

China’s women’s tennis team is facing the threat of suspension from international competition following a social media row with countrywoman Peng Shuai.

The Asian nation’s general prosecutor said on Friday that a criminal investigation is underway into the four tennis players involved in the Twitter spat. A statement read: “The conflict in the players’ social media communications violated the facts and as a result interfered with the obligations of sportsmen to uphold the rights of the parent, the sponsor and other relevant stakeholders.”

The trouble all began on June 2 when Peng posted a picture on Twitter of a go-kart tracks that she had posted from a match in the capital, Beijing. Commentators claim it shows the Chinese players speeding on the track in scant clothing. Others said it was part of a “cheating” culture that cropped up during some events in China.

In response, China’s Davis Cup team beat Taiwan to qualify for next year’s tournament in Malaysia, but a week later Peng, the team’s number one player, tweeted a link to a Chinese women’s team clothing catalogue showing pieces of athletic clothing that the team had worn during the match. The tweet was quickly deleted by Peng. But her comments did not go unnoticed.

Guangzhou’s The Paper reported on Wednesday that China’s national tennis association said it would “discuss the matter with the relevant sports bodies and the National Sports Administration” on Wednesday. The matter is under “active” investigation, the article added.

Peng and Zhang Shuai, who is ranked number 82, have had a sour relationship with their squad since Zhang was fired from the team in 2013. Zhang has also landed in hot water with sports officials for criticising the nation’s education system and social media use as part of her reasoning for not receiving a football scholarship from the Chinese Football Association.

Peng has also long been accused of anti-nationalism and the two women’s team officials were set to debate the issue at a press conference ahead of a scheduled match on Friday morning. A member of the press was forced to move the event to a nearby venue because the press centre was “absolutely full”.

The spat has resulted in China’s Fed Cup team being put on hold by the International Tennis Federation. A decision on the team’s status will be made on Sunday. The ITF would have to take into account whether China is within the realms of the federation’s charter, along with other factors, the ITF press office in Beijing told the Times of India.

“It’s going to be a decision that’s based on the facts,” Ross Hutchins, the British player and doubles specialist said. “The fact is the ITF doesn’t want to punish a billion people.”

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