WTA chairman has 'hard time' believing Peng Shuai actually wrote the email regarding her safety
"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received."
The chairman of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) admits he has a 'hard time believing' that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email they received regarding her safety.
The Chinese tennis star has not been seen since posting allegations of sexual assault against a former senior Chinese official two weeks ago.
Although the WTA said it had confirmed that she was "safe and not under any physical threat", they were not able to directly reach her.
In an email sent to the WTA, Ms Peng purportedly says the allegations are "not true".
However, Steve Simon, chairman of the WTA, said the message "only raises" his concerns about Ms Peng's safety.
"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," he said in a statement.
The email - which was written in her voice and published by the broadcaster CGTN - also claims she is not missing or unsafe, adding: "I've just been resting at home and everything is fine."
Many people on social media have expressed their doubt on its authenticity.
Latest twist in China’s most explosive #metoo case yet: strong statement from head of WTA in response to an email purportedly from tennis pro Peng Shuai in which she says she is safe and walks back her accusations of sexual assault, obtained somehow by Chinese state media. https://t.co/sNIo6ZGX4y pic.twitter.com/2Nj6b1mJ6f
— Amy Qin (@amyyqin) November 17, 2021
Peng - a former world number one doubles player - posted on Chinese social media site Weibo saying that she was "forced" into a sexual relationship with Zhang Gaoli.
Her allegations, which were soon deleted from China's internet, were made earlier this month and marked the first time that such a claim has been made against one of China's senior political leaders.
Zhang, 75, served as China's vice-premier between 2013 and 2018 and was a close ally of President Xi Jinping, and has not responded to her claims.
"The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe," WTA chair Steve Simon said on Wednesday.
He also reiterated his previous comment that her sexual assault allegation must be investigated "with full transparency and without censorship".
"The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to," he added.
Ms Peng, who has more than half a million followers on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), can still be found on the website, but it is not possible to write comments beneath her remaining posts anymore.
Her allegation is the highest profile incident in China's#MeToo movement.