#MeToo: WTA casts doubt over email attributed to tennis star Peng

Peng Shuai has not been seen or heard in public since making a sexual assault allegation against a top former Communist Party of China (CPC) official
China's Peng Shuai returning the ball to Serbia's Aleksandra Krunic during their women's singles first round match on day three of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris. (AFP/FILE)
China's Peng Shuai returning the ball to Serbia's Aleksandra Krunic during their women's singles first round match on day three of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris. (AFP/FILE)
Updated on Nov 18, 2021 06:15 PM IST
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BySutirtho Patranobis

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it has doubts about the authenticity of the email released by Chinese state media attributed to tennis player Peng Shuai, who has not been seen or heard in public since making a sexual assault allegation against a top former Communist Party of China (CPC) official.

China’s official broadcaster CCTV’s English channel, CGTN, early on Thursday tweeted an email allegedly from Peng, in which the sports star says she is well and safe. She also goes on to deny the allegations of against former CPC politburo standing committee member, Zhang Gaoli.

“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 email says.

“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,” Peng writes in the email.

Earlier this month, Peng, 35, a former Chinese world number one in doubles tennis, had accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, of coercing her into having sex and subsequently continuing an on-and-off secret relationship with her for years.

Peng’s allegations against Zhang, made in an emotional post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, was the first #MeToo allegation against a top CPC leader.

The vice-premier was among the seven members of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body in China, between 2013 and 2018, under President Xi Jinping.

Peng’s post was swiftly deleted and there’s been no news about her from the time.

Reacting to Peng’s letter published by CGTN, Steve Simon, chairman of the WTA, said in a statement he had a “hard time believing” the email was written by Peng.

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” Smith said in a statement. “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,” he added.

“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 WTA chief wrote.

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

Besides the WTA, tennis stars like Naomi Osaka have voiced concerns about Peng’s whereabouts and well-being.

“I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused,” Ms Osaka tweeted with the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.

“I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I’m in shock at the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way,” she added.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021