Peng Shuai has not been seen or heard from publicly since claiming on social media that China’s former vice premier had sexually assaulted her; WTA boss: “The statement released concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts”
Last Updated: 18/11/21 9:45am
Chinese state media are claiming that tennis player Peng Shuai has not gone missing – and that she is not accusing China’s former vice premier of sexually assaulting her.
But WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) chair and CEO Steve Simon says he remains extremely concerned about the player’s welfare.
Peng has not been seen or heard from publicly since November 2, when she claimed on social media that Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.
That has provoked widespread alarm about her safety – and on Wednesday night Chinese state media released an email which it claims is from Peng to the Women’s Tennis Association.
It said: “Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai
“Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent.
“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true,
“I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe, I’ve been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.
“If the WTA publishes any more news about me, please verify it with me, and release it with my consent.
“As a professional tennis player, I thank you all for your companionship and consideration. I hope to promote Chinese tennis with you all if I have the chance in the future.
“I hope Chinese tennis will become better and better.
“Once again, thank you for your consideration.”
However, Simon doubts the email is genuinely from the tennis player.
His response read: “The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.
“Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government.
“The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communications, to no avail.
“Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion and intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.
“The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”
I hope @WTA continues to show what we stand for as players. We are extremely lucky to be able to do what we do but I hope more people, not just tennis players, shed some light on this deeply concerning situation 🙏 https://t.co/B9TEoeoJ2Y
— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) November 17, 2021
Analysis: Sky News’ Tom Cheshire
“The reason for this silence, the censorship that is happening, is the claims that Peng Shuai was making reaches right to the top of the Chinese government,” Cheshire told Sky Sports News,
“It is the equivalent of the Royal Family really, this is a man who was on the Politburo Standing Committee and that’s why it was scrubbed, that’s why we haven’t heard anything.
“CGTN, which is Chinese state media – the English language version – put out a tweet saying they had seen an email sent by Peng Shuai.
“The reason for the scepticism is that CGTN doesn’t have a big track record for scoops. It does have a track record for airing false confessions – it was censored by Ofcom for this.
“The WTA has been pretty unflinching here in putting forward its case. The next question will be whether they continue to play matches. They get a lot of revenue from China.
“The other question, of course, is we have the Olympics coming up here in Beijing. Will that be a source of contention if one of its stars has so visibly disappeared?”