Two weeks after Chinese tennis star Yan Zi was swept up in an international scandal, concerns are growing as state media have now released a letter allegedly written by her, heightening rumors that she’s being punished for having an affair.
As part of a banned pre-Olympic series of news conferences ahead of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Yan gave a brief speech Thursday. It was much like any others she’s given over the past decade: saying how proud she was of China’s Olympic medal haul, sharing her joy at winning silver in her event, and recognizing her coach and team.
This is Lei Wenyuan’s words, spoken yesterday. pic.twitter.com/luXZssLgv8 — Susan McGregor (@SusanMcGregor) March 29, 2018
But after she finished her speech, a photographer asked her for a photo. And Yan didn’t hesitate. She gave a kiss to the camera, and with a smile wrote on the photo: “I love China.”
Yan and the man who first earned her national recognition was later identified as Bai Zhiwei, a renowned figure in Chinese tennis circles. He was also running a private tennis training program that held clinics and works out the country’s top juniors.
The pair were pictured together off-court in 2013, then again in 2015, before an event in China. Yan wrote on Weibo at the time about the relationship, but it was downplayed. It wasn’t until the fall of 2017 that rumors began surfacing about Bai being involved with Yan, and her statement at Thursday’s news conference that he’d left the program last year.
Chinese media, after initially presenting Yan as a victim, have now escalated the drama. They posted what appears to be a copy of Yan’s letter of resignation on Weibo. It references Yan’s sports agency, and reads: “Dear Mr. Zhu, the time has come for me to leave myself.”
In the letter, Yan claims she broke up with Bai after 10 years, while claiming he broke it off with her for 10 minutes in order to deceive her. She goes on to say that Bai threatened to take pictures of her giving Bai money, and that he then lied to her agent, telling her to do that themselves.
Soon, rumors have reached international tech giants that Yan worked for. Fortune reported that the Chinese government itself became aware of the situation a week ago, and promptly removed her name from their on-site tennis database.
Yan’s own social media accounts are also suffering, with messages being deleted and no record of her latest comment on Weibo.
Yan is one of China’s best-known female athletes, regularly appearing on cover of local newspapers and magazines. She was a big part of China’s winning gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, winning the bronze in the mixed doubles.
But speculation about the player’s past, especially given the upcoming March 31 deadline to return to the Olympic fold, is making her a hot commodity. It’s unclear whether Zhang Jike, who won gold in the men’s singles, will do so again. And hope Zhang and Yan take part in the event is being muted. Just hours after Yan’s post, a Chinese official tweeted that anyone who comes back to the Olympic team will be officially punished by the government. Zhang has also remained mum on Yan’s status.