The head of the Women’s Tennis Association on Wednesday questioned the legitimacy of what Chinese state media said was a retraction by Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai who has accused a former top government official of sexual assault. WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon voiced doubt over an email it received, also released by a Chinese state media outlet, in which Shuai was said to deny her allegations of sexual assault.
“The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe,” Simon said. “I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communications, to no avail.”
Peng is a 35-year-old from China and a former No. 1-ranked player in women’s doubles who won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She wrote in a lengthy social media post earlier this month that a former vice premier and member of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals. The post was removed and the country’s state-controlled media has suppressed all reporting on the case.
Simon called Sunday for a full investigation and demanded that Peng not be censored. Those expressing concern about the case and Peng’s safety also have included ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the 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 IOC, which on Wednesday said it was in touch with the International Tennis Federation, issued a statement Thursday after the statement attributed to Peng was tweeted out by CGTN.
“We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe,” the IOC said in its statement.
Peng’s accusation was the first against a prominent government official since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018 before being largely shut down by authorities the same year.