Peng Shuai's recent interview with French news outlet L'Equipe "does not alleviate any of our concerns", WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon has said.

In November, Peng posted claims on Chinese social media site Weibo that she had been sexually assaulted by the former Chinese vice-premier, before disappearing from public view and later denying making the allegations in a video interview posted by a Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper.

The situation led to widespread concern for Peng's wellbeing, initiating the #WhereIsPengShuai campaign, while the WTA went as far as suspending Chinese tennis tournaments.

Peng spoke to L'Equipe from Beijing, where the Winter Olympics are being hosted, and insisted there was no reason for concern.

"Sexual assault? I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way," Peng said.

"There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world following this post. I don't want the meaning of this post to be twisted anymore. And I don't want any further media hype around it."

In a statement posted on the WTA's official website, Simon said he was not convinced by Peng's interview and reiterated his call for a formal investigation to be undertaken into her initial claims.

"It's always good to see Peng Shuai, whether in an interview or attending the Olympic Games," Simon said in a statement published on the WTA's official website.

"However, her recent in-person interview does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2. To reiterate our view, Peng took a bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader.

"As we would do with any of our players globally, we have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng – privately – to discuss her situation.

"We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai."

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has spoken to an international mainstream outlet for the first time since allegedly going missing after making claims of sexual assault by a senior Chinese politician.

In November, Peng posted claims on Chinese social media Weibo that she had been sexually assaulted by former Chinese vice-premier, before disappearing from public view and later denying making the allegations in a video interview posted by a Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper.

The situation led to widespread concern for Peng's wellbeing, initiating the #WhereIsPengShuai campaign, while the WTA went as far as suspending Chinese tennis tournaments.

Peng spoke to French outlet L'Equipe from Beijing, where the Winter Olympics are being hosted, alongside the chief of staff of the Chinese Olympic Committee Wang Kan, where she insisted there was no reason for concern.

“I don’t think I was aware of it all [global interest] because I don’t watch the news from foreign media much,” Peng said. “I can’t read in English but I heard about it. I never thought there’d be such worry, though, and I’d like to know why was that the case?”

The former world number 14 again denied making the sexual assault allegation in the first place.

“Sexual assault? I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,” Peng said. “There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world following this post. I don’t want the meaning of this post to be twisted anymore. And I don’t want any further media hype around it.

“I never disappeared. Everyone could see me. I never disappeared. It’s just that many people, like my friends or people from the IOC messaged me, and it was simply impossible to answer so many messages. But I’ve been always in close contact with my close friends.

“I talked to them, I answered their emails, I also talked with the WTA... But at the end of the year, the communication IT system of their website was changed and many players had difficulties logging in. But my colleagues and I always stayed in touch.

"That’s why I don’t know why the news I had disappeared spread."

The Chinese state media released photos, emails and videos of Peng late last year although many suspected they were staged, thus concerns about her wellbeing will remain despite her latest interview.

Peng also spoke about WTA president Steve Simon's decision to suspend Chinese tennis tournaments, revealing she contacted him directly after it was announced as she felt the situation was "a bit exaggerated".

“I didn’t choose anything. Like everyone, like you, I saw the statement on the official WTA website,” Peng said.

“It was very unusual for me, why would I need psychological assistance or that sort of thing? I didn’t know how I should figure it out. But if the WTA psychologists couldn’t reach me and thought that I had disappeared, I think that’s a bit exaggerated. So after reading this statement, I responded to WTA president Steve Simon myself.

“Several copies were sent, and these emails I wrote myself. This is my personal statement. The same evening, I also sent it by WeChat to my colleagues in the players’ department in order to personally confirm that I was the author of the messages sent from my work email.”

Olympics chief Thomas Bach has confirmed he will meet with tennis star Peng Shuai during the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There has been global concern expressed for the safety, whereabouts and wellbeing of Chinese player Peng, who has competed at three summer Olympic Games.

In December, Peng denied making an accusation of sexual assault against a Chinese government official, saying there had been "a lot of misunderstandings" about a post on social media in November.

That post on her Weibo account, since removed, contained sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

Amid concerns for Peng after the accusation, the head of the women's tennis tour, WTA chairman Steve Simon, said he struggled to believe she had sent him an email that claimed the allegations were false and that she was safely at home.

The WTA has since suspended all its tournaments in China.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Bach said in a news conference on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony that 36-year-old Peng was living in Beijing, and that she claimed to be allowed to move freely. He said the IOC would support Peng if she considered an "inquiry" into her circumstances necessary.

Bach's stance throughout has been that "quiet diplomacy" is required, and he did not deviate from that on Thursday. He explained Peng would enter the "closed loop" of the Games, which has been designed to separate the Olympics from the rest of Beijing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"The answer is, yes, we will have the meeting," Bach said, when the issue was raised in a news conference.

"I'm very happy and grateful to Peng Shuai that she will enter, in order to have this meeting, because she also wanted to have this. We discussed it in November."

Bach said the IOC had previously made contact with Peng "to get to know where she is and as far as possible how she is". He has already spoken to Peng via video link.

"What better way than to have a personal meeting," he added. "This is why already in the first meeting, I said I want to meet personally once I arrive in China, and this will happen.

"It is also not only a sign of respect, but a necessity to respect her and then to listen to her and how she sees the situation, how she wants to live her life. This is what we are step by step trying to find out.

"If she wants to have an inquiry, of course we would also support her in this, but it must be her decision. It's her life; it's her allegations. We have heard the allegations, and we have heard the withdrawal.

"We will have this personal meeting and there we will continue this conversation, and we will know better about her physical integrity and her mental state when we can meet in person. This was the objective of this initiative from the very beginning.

"We say it publicly we have this information, but so far only by video conference. This cannot replace the personal contact and appearance.

"We know from her explanations during these video conferences that she is living here, in Beijing. She's reporting she can move freely, she's spending time with her family and friends, and now we will be able to do the next step in a personal meeting to convince us of her wellbeing and her state of mind."

Peng Shuai denied making an accusation of sexual assault against a Chinese government official, amid ongoing concerns for her wellbeing.

Peng has been widely considered as missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

The two-time doubles grand slam winner posted the allegations on social media site Weibo, though her post has since been removed.

But she now claims there had been "a lot of misunderstandings" about the post.

In a video interview posted by Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, Peng said: "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, who seemed surprised by the interview's questions, also said: "Why would anyone monitor? [I have] always been very free."

Peng was speaking at a sporting event in Shanghai in what was the first time she has addressed the alleged incident publicly on camera.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had twice spoken to Peng before and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) welcomed the IOC's pictures, which showed the 35-year-old speaking to IOC president Thomas Back via a video call, but suspended its upcoming tournaments in China owing to its ongoing concerns.

That decision came after WTA chairman Steve Simon said he struggled to believe Peng had sent him an email that claimed the sexual assault allegations were false and that she was safely at home.

Peng, however, said she had written the email in Chinese herself, and that the English translation of the message to Simon published by Chinese state media was accurate.

Novak Djokovic has backed the stance of the WTA after it suspended all tournaments in China amid ongoing concerns of the safety and wellbeing of Peng Shuai.

Peng made sexual assault allegations in early November against Zhang Ghaoli, the ex-vice-premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, and has not been seen in public since.

She posted the allegations on Chinese social media site Weibo, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts have been unclear.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has held two video calls with Peng, including one on Thursday, but the WTA chairman Steve Simon said neither the first call nor an email allegedly received from the tennis player alleviated concerns.

The WTA, who run the women's tennis tour, suspended its upcoming tournaments in China on Wednesday amid continuing concerns over Peng's safety and Djokovic agrees with the organisation's stance.

"I support fully the WTA's stance because we don't have enough information about Peng Shuai and her well-being," the men's world number one told reporters at Thursday's Davis Cup news conference.

"I think the position of the WTA is very bold and very courageous."

The IOC said it will hold a "personal meeting" in January with Peng as they released a statement on the same day as the second call to repeat the message of the "quiet diplomacy" route that was being taken with Chinese sport bodies.

The International Olympic Committee says it has spoken to Peng Shuai for a second time and will hold a "personal meeting" in January with the Chinese tennis star amid continuing concerns for her safety.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Olympic body repeated a previous message that it was taking a "quiet diplomacy" route and speaking to Chinese sport bodies about what it described as "the difficult situation she is in".

Peng made allegations in November of sexual assault against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee. The two-time doubles grand slam winner posted the allegations on social media site Weibo, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts since have been unclear.

The WTA, which runs the main women's tennis tour, suspended its upcoming tournaments in China on Wednesday owing to its ongoing worries about Peng's wellbeing.

An email allegedly sent by Peng was received recently by WTA chairman Steve Simon, with the message saying the sexual assault allegations were false and that the tennis star was safely at home. Simon said that email only heightened his worries over Peng's safety.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach was pictured in conversation by video link with Peng last month, and now the IOC says there was further contact on Wednesday with the 35-year-old former French Open and Wimbledon doubles winner.

The IOC said: "We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her. We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.

"There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety. We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations.

"We are using 'quiet diplomacy' which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.

"The IOC's efforts led to a half-hour videoconference with Peng Shuai on 21 November, during which she explained her situation and appeared to be safe and well, given the difficult situation she is in. This was reconfirmed in yesterday's call. Our human and person-centred approach means that we continue to be concerned about her personal situation and will continue to support her."

Beijing, China's capital, is due to host the Winter Olympics in February. There could be a heightened focus on Peng should the situation not be satisfactorily resolved by then.

There has been no suggestion of the Games being in any doubt due to the global concern over Peng, but the women's tennis tour will not be visiting China for the foreseeable future, barring a change in circumstances.

WTA chairman Simon said on Wednesday: "In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault."

The WTA has suspended its upcoming tournaments in China amid concern over the safety of Peng Shuai after she made allegations of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official.

Peng was not seen in public for several weeks after leveling the accusations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

She posted the allegations on social media site Weibo in early November, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts have been unclear.

In mid-November, an email allegedly sent by Peng was received by WTA chairman Steve Simon, who expressed his confusion and disbelief at the message, which claimed the sexual assault allegations were false and that the tennis star was safely at home.

The WTA also welcomed pictures of Peng on a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, but a spokesperson for the women's tennis organisation insisted that did not alleviate the concern.

Simon called for a full investigation into the incident as he said the prior email only heightened his worries over Peng's safety, also threatening to suspend WTA tournament action in China until the matter was resolved.

He has since confirmed the suspension will be imposed on tournaments in China in a statement released on Wednesday.

"When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted an allegation of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, the Women's Tennis Association recognised that Peng Shuai's message had to be listened to and taken seriously," Simon's statement read. 

"The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less.

"From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved.

"As Peng said in her post, 'Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you.' She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage."

The statement outlined a number of grievances with the way the Chinese state has handled the matter, before adding: "As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong.

"In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault."

China has called for people to stop "deliberately and maliciously hyping up" the Peng Shuai saga.

Two-time grand slam doubles champion was reported to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaol, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, more than three weeks ago.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) welcomed pictures that showed Peng on a video call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, but say the images do not alleviate its concerns about her wellbeing.

According to the IOC, Peng said she is "safe and well" in the call on Sunday and the 35-year-old spoke to president Bach for half an hour.

Despite footage released by Chinese state-run media on Saturday purporting to show Peng in a restaurant with friends, followed by images of her at a youth tournament on Sunday, concerns have continued to be raised regarding her safety.

Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are among many fellow players to have issued a plea for answers over Peng's whereabouts.

Human rights group Amnesty International stated the IOC is "entering dangerous waters" by taking part in a call with Peng and "should be extremely careful not to participate in any whitewash of possible human rights violations."

There was a firm message from China's foreign ministry on Tuesday, declared the issue is "not a diplomatic matter".

"I believe you have all seen that she recently attended some public events and had a video call [with IOC president Bach]," spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

"I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping [the issue] up, let alone politicise this issue."

 

 

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has welcomed pictures that show Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai on a video call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, but say they do not alleviate its concerns about her well-being.

The 35-year-old had been widely considered to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaol, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, more than three weeks ago.

According to the IOC, Peng said she is "safe and well" in the call with president Bach on Sunday.

The IOC said in a statement that Peng had spoken to president Bach for 30 minutes.

"She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time," the statement added.

"That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much."

In response, a WTA spokesperson said: "It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.

"This video does not change 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."

Despite footage released by Chinese state-run media on Saturday purporting to show Peng in a restaurant with friends, followed by images of her at a youth tournament on Sunday, concerns have continued to be raised regarding her safety.

Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are among those to have called for answers on Peng's whereabouts.

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai said she is "safe and well" in a video call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach on Sunday, the governing body said.

Peng had been widely considered to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, more than three weeks ago.

Despite footage released by Chinese state-run media on Saturday purporting to show Peng in a restaurant with friends, followed by images of the 35-year-old at a youth tournament on Sunday, concerns have been raised regarding her safety.

However, with the likes of Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic calling for answers on Peng's whereabouts, the former world number 14 has now spoken publicly for the first time since November 2.

In a statement released on Sunday, the IOC said Peng had spoken to president Bach for 30 minutes.

The announcement added: "She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time.

"That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much."

The statement included an image of the video call between Bach and Peng, who was smiling to the camera.

IOC member Li Lingwei and IOC Athletes Commission chair Emma Terho were also on the call, with the latter adding: "I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern. 

"She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated."

Prior to Sunday's latest development, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) called for more information about Peng.

"I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing," said WTA chairman and chief executive officer Steve Simon in response to the restaurant footage.

"While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. 

"This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai's health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. 

"I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads."

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has welcomed a video released by China state-run media that appears to show tennis star Peng Shuai, but continued to raise concerns about her safety.

Peng has been widely considered to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

The video was posted on Twitter by Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, who said it was taken on Saturday and shows Peng with her coach and friends in a restaurant in Beijing.

A statement released by WTA chairman and chief executive officer Steve Simon on Saturday said: "I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing. 

"While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. 

"This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai's health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. 

"I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads."

Earlier on Saturday, Hu Xijin had claimed that Peng was safe and well in her own home and will soon "show up in public" to allay concerns about her wellbeing.

Three purportedly new pictures of Peng have been reportedly posted on Chinese messaging app WeChat, along with a "Happy Weekend" message.

Tennis star Peng Shuai is safe and well in her own home and will soon "show up in public" to allay concerns about her wellbeing, a leading Chinese state media journalist claimed on Saturday.

Peng has been widely considered to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said two-time grand slam doubles champion Peng "didn't want to be disturbed".

Three purportedly new pictures of Peng have been reportedly posted on Chinese messaging app WeChat, along with a "Happy weekend" message.

They show her sitting in a room surrounded by soft toys, lifting up a grey cat, and holding a toy panda. In each of the pictures, which have not been externally verified as being recent, Peng appears to be well and content.

Hu wrote on Twitter: "I confirmed through my own sources today that these photos are indeed Peng Shuai's current state.

"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."

There have been fears expressed for Peng's safety from within tennis and beyond, and the veracity of subsequent messages from Peng – both on email and posted in her name on Weibo – has been questioned.

There has also been early scepticism expressed about the latest pictures of the 35-year-old.

United States president Joe Biden on Friday called for China to provide "independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe".

WTA stars Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka are among leading figures to have spoken of their concern for Peng, and men's world number one Novak Djokovic weighed in on Friday, saying he would support any move by the women's tour to back out of events in China.


French sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday led its front page with the question "Ou est Peng Shuai?" – Where is Peng Shuai? – as global concern continued to escalate.

Australia's former doubles world number one Paul McNamee said it was vital that hard evidence is produced to confirm she is safe and well.

McNamee wrote on Twitter: "Peng Shuai, an independent woman of substance, is someone I got to know pretty well. Along with everyone else in the tennis community, I am very worried, as we long to see her and, I reiterate, hear her voice in person."

WTA chairman Steve Simon was quoted on Friday by the BBC as saying his organisation still had not heard from former French Open and Wimbledon doubles winner Peng directly and warned it would have no issue backing out of events in China without proof the player was safe.

The authenticity of an email said to have been sent from Peng this week to the WTA has been questioned, leading Simon to say it "only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts".

Novak Djokovic has supported the notion of tennis events being pulled from China if Peng Shuai is not found safe.

Doubles grand slam winner Peng is said to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

The veracity of subsequent messages from Peng – both on email and posted in her name on Weibo – has been questioned.

WTA chairman Steve Simon told the BBC his organisation still had not heard from Peng directly and warned it would have no issue backing out of events in China without proof the player was safe.

WTA icons Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have spoken of their concern for Peng, and men's world number one Djokovic weighed in on Friday, offering his support to Simon's stance.

"I support the statement of WTA as an organisation and also their president absolutely," Djokovic said.

"The whole tennis community needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she's safe and sound because if you would have tournaments on Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange.

"I heard that the WTA is willing to pull out from China with all the tournaments unless this is resolved. I support it 100 per cent."

Serena Williams has said she is "devastated and shocked" by the case of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, whose whereabouts have become a mystery sparking international concern.

Doubles grand slam winner Peng is said to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against a former top Chinese government official.

She posted on Chinese social media site Weibo allegations against Zhang Gaoli – the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee – claiming he had forced her to have sexual relations with him.

The head of the women's tour, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon, has questioned the veracity of an email purportedly written by the two-time major doubles champion saying that she is safe.

Now 23-time grand slam singles winner Williams has added her powerful voice, stating: "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."

WTA boss Simon said he had "a hard time believing" the email in Peng's name had come from the 35-year-old player herself. The message stated the allegations of sexual assault were not true and that Peng was "resting at home".

Former world number one Williams said she was "sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time", adding the hashtag "#whereispengshuai" to her Twitter message.

Williams and Peng have faced each other four times in their careers, with the American winning each of their singles matches, the most recent in 2014, while Peng and Sun Tiantian beat Williams and sister Venus Williams in doubles in Bangalore in 2008.

There has been concern throughout sport and beyond for the wellbeing of Peng, a French Open and Wimbledon doubles winner.

On Wednesday, Simon said it was important that there was "independent and verifiable proof that she is safe", saying the statement issued in her name "only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts".

He said he had made efforts to contact Peng "via numerous forms of communication, to no avail", saying she must be allowed to speak "freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source".

Peng's social media post containing her allegations, along with all of her other content, has been removed from Weibo.

Four-time major winner Naomi Osaka also spoke up this week, with the Japanese star stating: "Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way."

WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon says he is even more concerned about Peng Shuai after receiving an email purportedly written by the two-time major doubles champion saying she is safe.

Peng has reportedly been missing since making sexual assault allegations against a former top Chinese government official.

She posted on Chinese social media site Weibo allegations against Zhang Gaoli – the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee – claiming he had forced her to have sexual relations with him.

Chinese state media sent a statement to Simon with an email supposedly written by Peng stating the allegations of sexual assault were not true and that she is "resting at home."

The WTA boss on Wednesday reacted by saying he has "a hard time believing" Peng wrote the email and he is even more worried about the 35-year-old.

"The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts," he said 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."

The WTA called for a full investigation into the matter last week.

Peng's social media post, along with all of her other content, has been removed from Weibo.

A spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs informed reporters he was not aware of the situation.

"I have not heard of the issue you raised," the spokesperson said via a widely released statement. "This is not a diplomatic question."

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