Editor’s note: This story contains alleged accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org
Missing tennis star Peng Shuai is purportedly seen in photos and a video posted by an employee of Chinese state TV and an editor of a newspaper published by the Communist Party. The state TV employee, Shen Shiwei, wrote in a tweet on Friday that the photos are from Peng's account on WeChat, a messaging app; however, there was no indication of when the photos were taken.
Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chair and chief executive Steve Simon said in a statement Saturday that "this video alone is insufficient."
"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," Simon said in a statement. "... 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 recently retired tennis star accused a former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault.
This is reportedly the first public accusation of this nature against a prominent Chinese government official, and since Shuai’s Nov. 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, the WTA veteran has reportedly not been heard from directly.
The photos and video were published as concern for Shuai's safety and whereabouts have continued to grow across the globe. International tennis stars, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, voiced their worries on social media and politicians, including Rep. Jim Banks, called for President Joe Biden and members of his administration to "suspend any high-level dialogues with China until China respond satisfactorily to our inquiries about Peng Shuai’s safety."
Earlier on Friday, per the Associated Press, China’s Foreign Ministry told reporters Shuai's situation was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”
Hours later, the White House joined the call for the Chinese government to provide "independent, verifiable proof" of the tennis player's whereabouts and her safety, press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
"We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe," Psaki told reporters. "We know the PRC has zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those that speak out and we continue to condemn those practices."
President Biden said Thursday that the United States is considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Olympics over China's human rights abuses. Athletes would still be allowed to compete in February's Winter Games, but American dignitaries would not attend.
This is not the first time a Chinese state-affiliated media outlet has released information concerning Shuai. Another released an email on Wednesday purportedly from Shuai that was sent to Simon; however, he said it only raised his concern "as to her safety and whereabouts."
The email said, in part, "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."
"For a person to come forth with the type of allegations and the detail into those allegations that she set forth in her Nov. 2 post, those are significant," Simon said Thursday during an interview with CNN. "For us to see an email that basically denied that happened and said it didn't and that all is great, I'm just struggling to agree to that and don't believe that's the truth at all."
Simon told The New York Times earlier this week that WTA received confirmation from the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) and other sources that the tennis star is “safe and not under any physical threat." However, he added that no one at WTA had been able to speak directly with Shuai yet.
From 2012 to '17, Zhang Gaoli served on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the "top ruling body" of the country, per The Times. Shuai detailed in her post that the former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party allegedly "forced" her to have sex with him.
“Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?” she wrote, per CNN.
The post, which also described an on-and-off consensual relationship with Gaoli, was removed within minutes, according to The Times, and searches of Shuai's name and "tennis" reportedly "appeared to be blocked" in China.
Simon reaffirmed earlier in the week that he is "willing to pull our business" out of China and lose millions of dollars if Shuai's allegations are not fully investigated and she is not spoken with directly. The WTA has 10 events scheduled in China for 2022, including the Finals. The country is scheduled to host that specific event through 2028.