The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has expressed increased concern for the welfare of Peng Shuai after a letter purportedly from the Chinese player appeared on state media.
Peng, a former world doubles No 1, has not been heard from since making allegations of sexual assault against a former vice-premier of China in a post on the social media platform Weibo two weeks ago.
The post was quickly removed and there has been mounting worry for Peng, with Naomi Osaka among those taking to social media to draw attention to the situation.
The letter on the China Global Television Network Europe’s Twitter page, which the broadcaster claimed was sent from Peng to WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon, read: “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 I am unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”
The WTA released a strong statement on Sunday, with Simon calling for an investigation into Peng’s allegations, while he told the New York Times the issue could jeopardise the tour’s future in China despite the huge sums of money at stake.
Writing on Wednesday, Simon said: “The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her 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 communications, 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.”