WTA chief Steve Simon has questioned the authencity of an email released by Chinese state media attributed to tennis player Shuai Peng.
The Chinese tennis star has gone missing since making sexual assault allegations against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli about two weeks ago.
The claims were quickly scrubbed from social media and she has not been seen since, drawing mounting concern over her well-being.
However, state-run CGTN published a screenshot on Twitter of what it said was an email written by Peng to Simon and other WTA officials.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has sent an email to Steve Simon, the WTA Chairman & CEO, CGTN has learned. The email reads: pic.twitter.com/jb6yXwxENA
— CGTN Europe (@CGTNEurope) November 17, 2021
“Hello everyone, this is Peng Shuai,” the email says.
“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 am not missing, nor am I unsafe. I have 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.”
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) November 16, 2021
We want to know.
— Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) November 18, 2021
Simon, however, cast doubts on the authenticity of the mail.
“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” Simon wrote 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,” he added.
He said he had been repeatedly trying to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail.
He called for “independent and verifiable proof that she is safe”.
China has kept silent over growing concern for the tennis star, whose claims marked the first time it’s fledgling #MeToo movement has struck at the top echelons of the ruling Communist Party.
But Beijing has previously faced allegations of using forced confessions on state media, with British regulators revoking CGTN’s licence for failing to comply with fairness and privacy rules.
ATP and WTA have presented a joint front as tennis tries to deal with this shocking development. Tennis stars like Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic have voiced their concerns as well.