Concerns over the whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai are mounting, as the sport’s governing body has been unable to contact her since she accused a top Chinese politician of sexual assault nearly two weeks ago.
Peng Shuai is one of China’s biggest sporting names and made the allegations against Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier of China, in a Weibo post on November 2. The post was quickly removed and she has not been heard from since.
Some of tennis’ biggest international stars, including Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic have publicly expressed their concerns over the whereabouts of Peng Shuai, with Osaka releasing a statement using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
“Censorship is never OK at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK. I’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way. #WhereIsPengShuai,” Osaka said.
On Thursday morning (AEDT), Chinese state media released a statement that they claimed was written by Peng Shuai herself. The letter appeared on the China Global Television Network Europe’s Twitter page and the broadcaster claimed it had been sent from Peng to Women’s Tennis Association chairman and CEO Steve Simon.
“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 statement read.
“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor I am unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”
The statement has been met with widespread scepticism, with Steve Simon publicly responding by saying he does not believe the letter was written or sent by Peng Shuai. Simon said it has only further raised his concerns about Peng Shuai’s safety and whereabouts.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote that email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” Simon said.
“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 or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.”