The Washington Post was not able to confirm the post’s authenticity, but it appeared to have been quickly scrubbed from China’s Weibo social media platform, and tight controls were placed on searches and commentary regarding Peng and former vice premier Zhang Gaoli.
On Sunday, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon issued a statement in which he said his organization commended Peng for “her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward” and that it expected her allegations to be “investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.” The men’s ATP Tour followed Monday with a statement supporting the call for “a full, fair and transparent investigation” and expressing concern for “the immediate safety and whereabouts” of Peng.
China Global Television Network, a state-owned news service, then posted Wednesday what it claimed were the contents of an email sent by Peng to Simon. In a typed note shared by CGTN, the author self-identified as Peng and stated the allegation of sexual assault was “not true.” The author added: “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.”
In response, the WTA issued a statement in which Simon said, “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.”
“The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe,” he added. “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. … The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”
Top tennis players have also expressed concern about Peng. Four-time Grand Slam singles champion Naomi Osaka was among those who have recently used the hashtag, #WhereIsPengShuai, to bring attention to her case.
“Not sure if you’ve been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused,” Osaka wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “Censorship is never ok at any cost.”
“I’m in shock of the current situation,” Osaka wrote, “and I’m sending love and light her way.”
Men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic used similar language Monday when asked at a news conference about the situation involving Peng. “Honestly, it’s shocking that she’s missing,” he said. “… I can imagine just how her family feels.”
Regarding the possibility that the WTA might pull out of events in China if the Peng situation were not resolved to its satisfaction — a move Simon suggested was on the table in comments Sunday to the New York Times — former tennis star Chris Evert tweeted Monday that she thought the tour would “choose life over money.”
“Human rights, Human dignity take precedence,” Evert wrote. “I’m praying for Peng.”
In her post, per reports, Peng said she and Zhang, who according to official profiles is now 74 or 75, had a sexual relationship 10 or more years ago before he ended contact. Approximately three years ago, following Zhang’s retirement, he and his wife invited her to their home for a meal, Peng said, at which point he pressured her for sex.
Peng said she was brought to tears and a state of panic and did not want to give Zhang what he wanted. Eventually, Peng relented, she reportedly wrote on Weibo, and she agreed to enter into an affair with him. She reportedly went on to state that she was angered over his insistence on keeping their relationship a secret and that she wanted to reveal their relationship even if it wouldn’t affect him and might put her at risk.
According to her WTA profile, Peng began her ascent in 2001 and reached a top year-end ranking of 17th in singles in 2011. At one point in 2014, she was the tour’s No. 1 doubles player, and she won doubles titles at the French Open that year and at Wimbledon in 2013.
Peng’s most recent appearance on the tour came at the Qatar Total Open in February 2020, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic brought an abrupt pause to the sports world.
In the note shared Wednesday by CGTN, the author purporting to be Peng requested that the WTA verify any information with the player and obtain her consent before saying more about her.
“As a professional tennis player,” the author wrote, “I thank you all for your companionship and consideration. I hope to promote Chinese tennis with you all if I have a chance in the future.”