Among the reactions to and coverage of Li Na’s fifth-round loss to Sofia Kenin, more than any other detail, was the frantic search and recovery efforts to recover her daughter, Li Ping and senior team manager Wang Jun’s bikes, which were apparently taken by fans following the match. The bikes are at the center of a fierce propaganda battle in China.
A version of the bicycles’ photos are circulating via social media, along with a caption that supposedly describes the rescue effort, which not only includes the retrieval of the bikes but also a photo that “shows clearly that the reporter and citizens followed the appropriate social rules and norms.” The photos also include numerous demonstrations of support for China’s pro tennis star, including the police presence on court and Yao Ming’s presence at the players’ box in Shanghai.
On Sina Weibo, some users accused the government of trying to distract attention from Li Na’s loss — and criticized the public display of support for the pro tennis star and executive.
“The tendency towards capitalism has reached the point where you’re using stolen bikes as a reason to spend public funds. The government is again trying to do cheap PR. Instead of the $5 million rally, why don’t you do the real thing that really matters, if you want to say something about the problem — government corruption? Why not dedicate the entire game to protecting the legal rights of the millions of Chinese in China who lost their homes and businesses under ‘white riots’?”
At the time of this writing, the website of the government-run People’s Daily Chinese magazine includes a photograph of the four cyclists that apparently exonerates the athletes.