Concern deepens for Peng Shuai

WTA chairman says email posted on Chinese media ‘raises concerns on player’s safety’


AFP November 18, 2021

BEIJING:

The boss of women's tennis has cast doubt on an email posted on China's media purportedly from tennis star Peng Shuai, saying it "only raises my concerns as to her safety."

Steve Simon, chairman of the WTA, said in a statement that he had a "hard time believing" the email was written by Peng, who has not been heard from since alleging two weeks ago that a powerful Chinese politician had sexually assaulted her.

Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, alleged on the Twitter-like Weibo earlier this month that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had "forced" her into sex during a long-term on-off relationship.

The claims were quickly scrubbed from social media and she has not been seen since, drawing mounting concern over her wellbeing.

However, state-run CGTN published a screenshot on Twitter of what it said was an email written by Peng to Simon and other WTA officials.

In the email, Peng purportedly claims that her earlier accusations of sexual abuse are "not true" and says she is "resting at home and everything is fine”.

But doubts were quickly flagged about the language used in the purported email from Peng, which Twitter users noted had a cursor visible in the screenshot posted by CGTN.

Simon said he was struggling to believe it was authentic.

"The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts," Simon wrote in a statement.

"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," he added.

He said he had been repeatedly trying to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail.

He called for "independent and verifiable proof that she is safe".

"Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government," said Simon.

"Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.”

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