China Tennis Peng

UPDATE: On Saturday, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon has issued a statement about recent video posted by China state-run media of Peng Shuai:

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. Steve Simon

More on the matter, from the Associated Press:

BEIJING (AP) — An employee of Chinese state TV has posted photos of missing tennis star Peng Shuai online in a new effort to dispel concern about her disappearance after she accused a senior leader of sexual assault.

The photos appeared Friday on Twitter, which cannot be seen by most internet users in China. The state TV employee, Shen Shiwei, wrote they were on Peng’s account on the WeChat message service with the comment, “Happy Weekend.”

The ruling Communist Party faces mounting appeals from tennis stars and the sport’s professional tour to prove Peng, a three-time Olympian and former No. 1-ranked women’s doubles player, is safe and let her speak freely.

Meanwhile, the editor of a newspaper published by the party said Peng would “show up in public” soon.

The controversy is politically awkward as the Chinese capital prepares to hold the Winter Olympics in February. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Friday denied knowing about the outcry over Peng’s disappearance.

Peng, 35, hasn’t been seen in public since posting a statement on social media this month accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the party’s Standing Committee, the ruling inner circle of power, of forcing her to have sex despite repeated refusals.

Shen works for CGTN, the English-language arm of China Central Television that is aimed at foreign audiences. His Twitter post came after CGTN this week distributed a statement it said came from Peng that retracted the accusations against Zhang.

The editor of Global Times, an English-language newspaper published by the Communist Party, said on Twitter he had confirmed from unidentified sources that the 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,” wrote the editor, Hu Xijin. “She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon.”

The photos showed Peng with a gray cat and holding a panda figurine in what appeared to be a private home with stuffed animals lined up behind her. There was no indication when the photos were taken.

The chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, on Wednesday questioned the legitimacy of the statement released by CGTN. Simon said it “only raises my concerns as to her safety.”

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WATCH—Jon Wertheim interviews Steve Simon about the Peng Shuai situation:

The sport has spoken, with countless players and tennis' governing bodies asking the same question: Where is Peng Shuai? Since being made into a hashtag that has trended across social media for days, the answer is as painfully unclear as ever, with concern only growing for the 35-year-old former doubles No. 1 from China, who has not been seen or heard from since November 2, when she alleged on her Weibo account that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into having sex.

On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry maintained its stance that it was "not aware of the situation." The blunt response comes after the CGTN, which communicates Chinese state broadcaster CCTV to international audiences, tweeted an email note claiming to be from Peng saying that she was safe and any sexual assault allegations were untrue.

Neither comment has satisfied anyone; rather, they have only intensified the call for substantive action. The ATP and ITF both issued statements on Friday about the matter:

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Later on Friday, the WTA—which had already posted one of the many #WhereIsPengShuai images on Twitter—elaborated on an earlier statement from Chairman and CEO Steve Simon during an interview on Tennis Channel. In the statement, Simon questioned the veracity of the CGTN's email, and called for "independent and verifiable proof that she is safe," adding that, "I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail."

"I don’t have a lot of new information," Simon told Wertheim to start. "We continue all of our efforts to reach out, and hope to speak to her directly.

"We have a significant issue ... We want to make sure that Peng Shuai is, first of all, safe.

Simon went on to "demand" for a full and fair investigation.

"If it doesn’t happen, we’ll certainly deal with that appropriately," Simon said. "We’re certainly willing to takle on those challenges."

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If it doesn't happen, we are prepared to move on, and deal with the challenges that will come with it, and they will be significant. Steve Simon, on whether the WTA can go back to China should its demands not be met

Such challenges could be the future of WTA's significant presence in China, which includes the tour's season-ending championships. One point of leverage the WTA may have in a discussion with a country has not regularly complied with demands from the international community is business the tour provides to China. Wertheim asked Simon, if the response isn't to his satisfaction, "Can you go back to China?"

"Time will tell," Simon said in response. "If we have any integrity at all, and there was any integrity in the request that we made, if it's done, and if it's done to the appropriate satisfactions, then yes, we would continue. And I think you should. You can't make these statements and then take your toys and run away.

"If it doesn't happen, we are prepared to move on, and deal with the challenges that will come with it, and they will be significant." (You can watch Jon Wertheim's entire interview with Steve Simon at the video atop this story.)

GettyImages-1353798444

GettyImages-1353798444

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Later on Friday, Novak Djokovic was asked about Simon's comments following the Serb's match at the ATP Finals in Turin. He expressed concern for Shuai; backed the WTA head; supported a pullout from tournaments in China if it came to it; and called for players and tours to "come together," in accordance with a statement that Djokovic's PTPA put out on Twitter.

Here are his remarks, in their entirety:

Q. We've seen very strong statements from the WTA CEO Steve Simon, about the Peng Shuai situation, where he said the WTA is willing to pull out of China completely if the situation is not resolved. In your opinion do you think the ATP should operate in China next year if the situation is not resolved?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Just before the match today I heard - I'm not sure if this was the statement from her PR team - but there was some kind of statement about her. I don't know whether she was found or not. Correct me if I'm wrong. That's what I heard.

Someone told me there was some kind of statement that went out there that she was kept I don't know if it was a prison, she was contained. I don't know. She didn't really have communication with everybody.

I hope this is true, that she's found, that she's healthy, that everything is fine. If this is the case, okay, at least the worst is avoided.

I support the statement of WTA as an organization and also their president absolutely. This can obviously happen to anybody. I mean, this is not common thing, obviously. We don't hear about it. I don't know if it ever has happened. But life is like that. Anybody can get lost. I don't know, something can happen to you.

The whole community, 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 the Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange.

I do understand why WTA has taken a stance like that.

The whole community, 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 the Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange. Novak Djokovic

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Q. The PTPA have put a Twitter statement out a day or so ago saying, We must unite and be willing to take any action unless un-collaborated evidence -- I am sorry, unless collaborated evidence is provided. What does 'action' represent in your opinion? What does that actually mean from the players?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: We don't know what it means fully because this is such a recent situation that occurred. We don't know enough.

The actual meaning behind that statement and the message from PTPA is that we must stand together. Whether it's a male or female player, whether it's one player or more players, it's necessary. It's kind of logical that we stand behind trying to give support in one way or another, whatever that means.

'To unite' means to come together and to figure out what kind of actions we can take, not just players, but players with ATP, WTA, kind of an initiated reaction from both ATP and WTA chairmans.

It's important because this is horrifying. I mean, a person is missing. I don't know what I said just previously if it's true or not, that she's found. I mean, I really hope so because, I mean, she was No. 1 in the world recently in doubles, one of the most well-known Chinese tennis players. China is a huge country. It's a very important part of the world especially for WTA. They have many tournaments there. I mean, this is necessary for us to take whatever actions.

I heard just now from Reem that WTA is willing to pull out from China with all the tournaments unless this is resolved. I support it 100%.

Q. That was a Chinese state media tweet that was put out a couple hours ago claiming to be her, but we aren't able to verify that.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you. I did not know what the source was. I'm not really sure. I didn't validate the source, what was happening. I just heard.

I mean, I hope that for the sake of tennis, Chinese tennis, Peng Shuai, to find her very soon. It's terrible. I mean, this could happen to anybody in any part of the world. Imagine what people would feel if maybe there is someone else coming from, I don't know, someone maybe even more known in tennis or more popular athlete. It doesn't really matter who it is.

We just have to unite and stand together and show that there is no ignorance to this, that it's not like it's just I guess something that concerns China. It concerns the tennis world because she has been an international tennis athlete for many years. She deserves at least our support in this whole case.