Peng Shuai appearance fails to address concerns for her wellbeing, says WTA

The Women’s Tennis Association has reiterated its call for an investigation into the welfare of Peng Shuai and said a public appearance by the Chinese star on Sunday still did not address its concerns about her wellbeing.

On Sunday Peng said a message she had posted on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, in early November in which she accused the former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault had been “misunderstood”.

“First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important: I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point,” Peng said at a cross-country skiing evening in Shanghai, in a video posted by Singaporean outlet Lianhe Zaobao. The statement was the first time the player had publicly addressed her previous allegations in person.

The 35-year-old also said she was not being surveilled or monitored. “I’ve always been very free,” she told the reporter. She added that the post was a “private matter” and that “people have many misunderstandings” about it, but did not elaborate. She made no mention of Zhang, who has not commented on the matter.

Tennis star Peng Shuai retracts sexual assault claims – video
Tennis star Peng Shuai retracts sexual assault claims – video

In a statement on Monday, the WTA said: “We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”

Peng disappeared from public life for almost three months after the Weibo post, prompting international concern over her wellbeing. China has not commented officially on Peng’s initial post, which was scrubbed from China’s heavily censored internet within half an hour. Her subsequent silence triggered a social media campaign under the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.

Sunday’s video also showed Peng saying she had personally written a message last month to the WTA head, Steve Simon, denying any assault allegations, and that an English translation of the message published by Chinese state media was accurate.

At the time of the email, Simon said he “had a hard time believing” that Peng had written it. Screenshots of Peng’s message on social media drew scepticism after an observer drew attention to a text cursor in the middle of the email.

This month the WTA announced it was suspending all tournaments in China over concerns for Peng and the safety of its players. China has become the WTA’s biggest market in recent years but has not hosted any events for two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was again good to see Peng Shuai in a public setting and we certainly hope she is doing well,” the WTA said on Monday. “As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.”

Peng’s latest statement did not allay concerns among international rights groups about her welfare. “Wow, so natural, very real, everyone now believes it. Congratulations, the CCP [Chinese Communist party]!,” Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, tweeted sarcastically.

Zhang, 75, was a member of the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee until 2018 and a senior lieutenant to the president and party leader, Xi Jinping. He has not appeared in public or commented on Peng’s accusation.

The controversy surrounding Peng has added to protests against Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympics Games in February. The International Olympic Committee has held two calls with Peng but has not released any footage. IOC officials have said their conversations with Peng have assured them of her wellbeing.

The Guardian

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