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There are fresh concerns for the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after state media sent an email purportedly from Peng to the WTA.
Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, hasn't been heard from since alleging two weeks ago that a powerful Chinese politician sexually assaulted her.
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A number of top players, including Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, have expressed their concerns for Peng, with the WTA unable to contact her.
But an email purportedly written by Peng added an explosive new twist in the scandal on Wednesday.
State-run CGTN published the email attributed to Peng, which the player allegedly sent to WTA officials.
“Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai," the email reads.
“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’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.”
From Chinese state media, “from” Peng Shuai. Deeply dubious. pic.twitter.com/XJkB169VD9
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) November 17, 2021
The email has since raised fresh concerns for Peng, with the WTA questioning its authenticity.
"The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts," WTA chief Steve 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.
"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.
“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 voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”
Tennis world expresses fresh concerns for Peng Shuai
Leading tennis writer Jose Morgado described the email as “super worrying” and said it “sounds like a joke”.
Fellow journalist Jon Wertheim tweeted: “Stating the obvious, this allays few concerns...”
While reporter Reem Abulleil added: “Didn’t think I could be more worried about Peng Shuai but I am after reading this.
"Dubious doesn’t cut it ... What the hell is this? And how do they think this is remotely believable?”
Didn't think I could be more worried about Peng Shuai but I am after reading this.
Dubious doesn't cut it... What the hell is this? And how do they think this is remotely believable?https://t.co/mRul0NiHne
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) November 17, 2021
— Akemi Yamada (@AkemiYamada8) November 17, 2021
According to 🇨🇳 state media CGTN, Peng Shuai has sent an email to WTA Chairman & CEO Steve Simon.
Note there’s a “cursor” on the third line of the “email”.
— Byron Wan (@Byron_Wan) November 17, 2021
I have a hard time believing that this is actually from Peng Shuai. If the news release was indeed untrue, would she have responded right away instead of disappearing for 2 weeks from the public eye before finally sending out an email? #WhereIsPengShuai https://t.co/A581b2OX2M
— Lily Cao (@lilycao0130) November 17, 2021
Peng alleged on the Twitter-like Weibo earlier this month that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had "forced" her into sex during a long-term on-off relationship.
Details of her reported accusations remain scrubbed from China's Internet.
The post appeared to have been deleted quickly after being published.
Four-time grand slam champion Osaka said she was in "shock" about the Peng situation, with Djokovic and numerous other players in recent days saying they were deeply worried about her.
The WTA earlier urged for Peng's claims to be "investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship".
Chinese officials have remained quiet about Peng and its national tennis association has not responded to requests for comment.
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