The Peng Shuai sexual assault scandal got an unexpected twist today: as Chinese media reported that the tennis player sent an email to the WTA saying that she is alive and well, the WTA promptly published a press release saying that they don’t believe in the authenticity of the email and are really concerned about the former doubles world No.1.
The Peng Shuai story is getting more intriguing by the day.
Earlier this month, Peng posted a quickly-deleted statement on social media site Weibo, accusing former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assualt. Soon afterwards, typing in “Peng Shuai” or even the word “tennis” appeared to be censored in search engines in the country.
The 35-year-old Peng acknowledged that she would not be able to provide evidence for her claims. The 75-year-old Zhang has not responded to the accusation.
After this shocking revelation, Peng was gone missing and the WTA issued a statement on November 14, deeply concerned about her wellbeing:
Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness. […] We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.
On November 17, Chinese state media reported that Peng sent email to WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon saying sexual assault allegations have “not been confirmed or verified”. This is the content of the email:
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 just 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.
Just hours later, WTA CEO Steve Simon issued another statement, saying that he is now even more concerned about Peng’s 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 communication, to no avail.