WTA doubts Chinese players’ email denying sexual assault allegations

Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Chairman and CEO, Steve Simon has raised doubts on an email released by Chinese state media attributed to tennis player Peng Shuai in which she purportedly denies allegations she made about being sexually assaulted by a former top politician of her country.

Peng, a doubles champion at Wimbledon and the French Open, accused China’s former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Now in a fresh mail that appeared in the Chinese media, Peng purportedly says the allegations are “not true”.

Steve Simon, chairman of the WTA, said the message “only raises” his concerns about Peng’s safety.

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” he said in a statement. “The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe,” he said.

Simon also reiterated that the sexual assault allegation by Peng must be investigated “with full transparency and without censorship”.

“The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to,” he added.

Written in her voice and published by the broadcaster CGTN, the email claims she is not missing or unsafe, adding: “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.”

Peng, a former No. 1-ranked doubles player, had not been heard from since posting an allegation about former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli on Chinese social media site Weibo in early November.

She alleged she was “forced” into sexual relations with Zhang — who served as the country’s Vice Premier between 2013 and 2018 and was a close ally of China’s leader Xi Jinping — in a post that was later taken down. She has not been seen or heard from publicly since.

Many international tennis players have raised their concerns about Peng’s safety. World number one Novak Djokovic said that he hoped she was okay while Naomi Osaka too voiced concerns about Peng’s whereabouts.