The chairman of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is demanding to know the whereabouts of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who went missing after publicly accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault. The WTA leader said he will pull hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business out of China if the player is not accounted for.
“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” Steve Simon told CNN on Thursday. “Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business.”
“Women need to be respected and not censored,” he added.
On November 2, Peng accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex. Peng revealed the alleged incident in a post on the Chinese social media network Weibo.
She hasn’t been seen since.
Within 30 minutes of publication, Peng’s post was deleted and Chinese censors immediately worked to remove all mentions of the accusation online. As of Friday, Nov. 19, the popular tennis star’s Weibo account – which has over 500,000 followers — remains blocked from searchers.
According to Simon, the WTA has been in contact with the Chinese Tennis Association, who assured him that Peng was unharmed in Beijing. However, all attempts to speak with Peng directly have failed.
“We have reached out to her on every phone number and email address and other forms of contact,” Simon said. “There’s so many digital approaches to contact people these days that we have, and to date we still have not been able to get a response.”
On Wednesday, the Chinese state-run publication CGTN posted on Twitter an email supposedly sent from Peng to Simon. In the email, “Peng” says her sexual assault allegations are “not true.”
“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 stated. “The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true.”
“I am not missing, nor am I unsafe,” it continued. “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.”
Simon doubted the email’s authenticity and described it as a “staged statement of some type.” He said he has not received a reply despite immediately responding.
“Whether she was coerced into writing it, someone wrote it for her, we don’t know,” Simon said. “But at this point I don’t think there’s any validity in it and we won’t be comfortable until we have a chance to speak with her.”
Despite being a three-time Olympian for China, the International Olympic Committee said it would “not comment any further at this stage” of Peng’s disappearance.
The IOC told CNN, “Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature. This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
Human Rights Watch was stunned by the IOC’s silence on the Olympian’s disappearance, writing in a statement that it is “astonishing that the IOC would accept the government’s assurances, particularly at the expense of a female Olympian making grave allegations.”