Tennis chief issues demands to China after mystery email from ‘missing’ star
The head of the Women’s Tennis Association has questioned the authenticity of an email purportedly sent by Chinese star Peng Shuai, who recently appeared to accuse a former top Communist official of sexual assault.
Chinese media released an email on Wednesday which they claimed was sent by Peng to WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon.
The message asserted that sexual assault allegations attributed to Peng against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli were untrue.
It also denied that Peng was “missing”, despite international concern regarding her whereabouts since the abuse allegations appeared earlier this month.
Responding to the email, WTA boss Simon said he had serious doubts that the message had actually come from Peng.
“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” read 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.
“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 communication, 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.
“The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”
The allegations against the high-ranking Zhang were made in a post on Peng’s Weibo account earlier this month.
The 35-year-old star claimed that she had been coerced into having sex with Zhang before beginning an on-off consensual sexual relationship.
Zhang, now 75, served as vice premier between 2013 and 2018, and on the Politburo Standing Committee from 2012 to 2017.
Peng is a former world number one doubles player and won doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the French Open the following year.
She reached a career-high singles ranking of world number 14 in 2011 and made it to the US Open semi-finals in 2014.
Her case has caused widespread concern in the tennis world, with the likes of men’s world number one Novak Djokovic and four-time women’s Grand Slam queen Naomi Osaka both speaking out.