Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai
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Chinese state media has claimed that Peng Shuai will make a public appearance “soon”. Concerns are growing for the former doubles world No 1, who disappeared after accusing China’s former vice premier of sexual assault. The WTA CEO and Chairman previously said he didn’t “believe” China state-affiliated media when they released a statement allegedly written by Peng, claiming she was safe.
Peng Shuai accused China’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a lengthy Weibo post on November 2, also detailing an on-off affair with the now-retired politician who is 40 years her senior, dating back to 2011.
The post was deleted within half an hour, with searches for Peng’s name and even the word tennis temporarily blocked, and the Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion has not been heard from or directly accounted for since sharing the post – believed to be the first made against a high-ranking member of China’s Communist Party, as Zhang served on their Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top ruling council – between 2012 and 2017.
Zhang has not responded to the claims, while a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegations when asked about the subject, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”
As concerns have been growing for the 35-year-old, China’s state-affiliated media has now claimed that the tennis star is staying at home “freely” and “will show up in public and participate in some activities soon.”
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On Saturday (November 20) Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin – from the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party – tweeted: “In the past few days, she stayed in her own home freely and she didn’t want to be disturbed. She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon.”
His claims come after journalist Shen Shiwei of CGTN, the international arm of government-controlled state broadcaster CCTV, shared photos of the former doubles world No 1 smiling for the camera surrounded by toys, alongside a grey cat on Friday (November 19), claiming they were sent by Peng to one of her friends via WeChat.
According to Twitter, state-affiliated media accounts are defined as: “Outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution. Accounts belonging to state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their senior staff may be labelled.
The WTA CEO and Chairman, Steve Simon, previously cast doubt over China state media claims about Peng’s safety and whereabouts.
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CGTN network tweeted a statement allegedly written by Peng Shuai in an email to the WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon on Wednesday (November 17), claiming that she was fine, had been at home resting, and that the sexual assault allegations were not true.
The WTA boss released a statement shortly after, and did not believe the former singles world No 14 had written the email, saying: “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.”
Members of the tennis community have come out in droves to raise concerns for Peng, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are some of the highest-profile players to have questioned their colleague’s whereabouts and safety.
“I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai,” 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams tweeted on Thursday (November 18).
Meanwhile, Osaka was one of the first players to raise awareness of the issue, tweeting on Tuesday (November 16): Hey everyone, 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.
“Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok.”
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