CNN

UN calls for proof of Chinese tennis stars whereabouts

Nov 21, 2021, 7:19 PM | Updated: Nov 22, 2021, 12:37 pm
The head of the Women's Tennis Association Steve Simon has said he is willing to lose hundreds of m...
The head of the Women's Tennis Association Steve Simon has said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if tennis player Peng Shuai's safety is not fully accounted for and her allegations are not properly investigated. Photo credit: Getty Images

 (CNN) — China is facing pressure from the United Nations over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s whereabouts as the organization called for an investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.

Peng, who is one of China’s most recognizable sports stars, has not been seen in public since she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.

“What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault,” Liz Throssell, the spokesperson of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

“According to available information, the former world doubles No. 1 hasn’t been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she was sexually assaulted. We would stress that it is important to know where she is and know her state, know about her wellbeing,” Throssell said.

The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Steve Simon has said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations are not properly investigated.

“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” Simon said in an interview Thursday with CNN. “Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business,” added Simon.

“Women need to be respected and not censored,” said Simon.

The White House said Friday it is “deeply concerned”.

Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, told reporters: “We are deeply concerned by reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a former PRC (Peoples Republic of China) senior official of sexual assaults. We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe.”

Peng’s post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was deleted within 30 minutes of publication, with Chinese censors moving swiftly to wipe out any mention of the accusation online. Her Weibo account, which has more than half a million followers, is still blocked from searchers on the platform.

The forceful intervention from Simon puts the tennis chief on a likely collision course with authorities in China, which have so far refused to publicly acknowledge Peng’s allegations. Perceived criticisms of China, which is also due to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in February, have previously resulted in significant public and political backlash, as well as loss of access.

‘Staged statement of some type’

Simon said the WTA had been in conversation with counterparts at the Chinese Tennis Association, who had provided assurances Peng was unharmed in Beijing. However, attempts to reach Peng directly had proved unsuccessful.

“We have reached out to her on every phone number and email address and other forms of contact,” he 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.”

Earlier this week, Chinese state media released an email, purportedly sent to Simon from Peng, walking back her allegations and claiming she is fine.

The alleged email was released only on English-language platforms and domestic Chinese media have not reported on its contents, despite Peng being a household name in China.

When asked about the email, Simon questioned its veracity, describing it as a “staged statement of some type,” noting he had yet to receive a follow-up reply, despite responding immediately.

“Whether she was coerced into writing it, someone wrote it for her, we don’t know,” said Simon. “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,” he added.

Later on Friday, CGTN journalist Shen Shiwei tweeted three photos he claimed Peng had posted on WeChat along with the message “happy weekend.”

Shen said the photos were shared by one of Peng’s friends. CNN could not independently verify when the photos were taken, whether Peng posted the photos herself, or whether they were posted at all.

In a Twitter post on Saturday, Hu Xijin, editor of Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times, republished the photos of Peng amid concerted efforts by government-controlled media to ease the intensifying concerns about the tennis star’s whereabouts and welfare.

“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,” Hu tweeted. “She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon.”

Chinese state media Twitter accounts have been increasingly posting anonymously sourced information about the tennis star, ostensibly aimed at quelling the controversy without even acknowledging her claim against Zhang.

All media organizations in China are strictly controlled by the country’s propaganda authorities. Their tweets about Peng are not reported inside China, which has long banned Twitter and other international social media platforms.

Tennis’ popularity in China has grown rapidly over the past few decades, with several Chinese players breaking into the global rankings. The women’s game, in particular, is a big market, thanks in part to the success of Chinese tennis star Li Na, who in 2011 became Asia’s first grand slam singles tennis champion when she won the French Open, followed by a second major title at the 2014 Australian Open.

In recent years, the WTA has made a big push into China. In 2019, the WTA Finals relocated from Singapore to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, entering into a lengthy ten-year deal.

In an interview with the New York Times from 2018, Simon described the arrangement with authorities in Shenzhen, which reportedly includes the construction of a new multimillion dollar tennis stadium, as a “huge opportunity” for women’s tennis in China.

“When you factor in the commitment to prize money and the commitments to the WTA, and you factor in the stadium build and real-estate elements, it’s over a $1 billion dollar commitment they have made to the WTA Finals and the WTA,” Simon was quoted as saying.

On Thursday, Serena Williams joined a growing number of international tennis players to voice concern over Peng’s whereabouts.

“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,” Williams wrote on Twitter. “This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.”

Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka on Tuesday said she was “in shock of the current situation.”

“Censorship is never OK at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK,” she wrote as part of a statement on Twitter alongside the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

The controversy risks impacting the forthcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, which are set to kick off in Beijing in less than three months. Calls for a boycott have been growing in recent months, owing to concerns over China’s alleged human rights abuses. On Thursday, US President Joe Biden confirmed he is mulling a diplomatic boycott of the event.

The international concern for Peng, who is a three-time Olympian, having represented China at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, London in 2012, and Beijing in 2008, could now strengthen those calls.

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has distanced itself from putting pressure on Chinese authorities.

In a response to CNN, the IOC said: “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 accused the IOC of being “silent on the Olympian’s disappearance.” In a statement, the global rights group said it is “astonishing that the IOC would accept the government’s assurances, particularly at the expense of a female Olympian making grave allegations.”

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Peng’s accusation is not a diplomatic issue and declined to comment further.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

CNN

Breakfast Sandwiches are one of hundreds of recalled products. (CNN, stock)...
Nouran Salahieh, CNN

More than 400 products including breakfast sandwiches and fruit cups recalled due to possible Listeria contamination

"The recall was initiated after the company's environmental samples tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes," Fresh Ideation Food Group said in its recall announcement.
12 hours ago
KAHRAMANMARAS, TURKIYE - FEBRUARY 6: A view of the destroyed building after 7.4 magnitude earthquak...
Rhea Mogul, Gul Tuysuz, Isil Sariyuce, Kareem El Damanhoury and Rob Picheta, CNN

More than 1,500 dead as powerful quake hits southern Turkey and Syria

One of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in a century shook residents from their beds at around 4 a.m. on Monday, sending tremors as far away as Lebanon and Israel.
12 hours ago
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed ...
Hannah Sarisohn, CNN

Evacuations ordered amid fears of an explosion as an Ohio train continues burning days after derailment

Residents near the site of a train derailment that sparked a massive fire in East Palestine, Ohio, were urged to evacuate immediately Sunday night.
12 hours ago
GOSHEN, CA - JANUARY 16: Tulare County Sheriff crime unit investigates the scene where six people, ...
Cheri Mossburg, CNN

2 arrested in central California shooting that left 6 dead, including mother clutching 10-month-old son

Originally Published: 03 FEB 23 16:30 ET Updated: 05 FEB 23 22:44 ET     (CNN) — Two suspects were taken into custody, one after a shootout, in a “cartel-style” massacre last month that left six people dead in central California, including a young mother and her 10-month-old son, authorities announced Friday. The suspects, identified in charging […]
12 hours ago
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 03: Grammy trophies sit in the press room during the 64th Annual GRAMMY A...
Marianne Garvey, CNN

How to watch the 2023 Grammy Awards: Time, channels and more

The biggest night in music is here with the 65th Grammy Awards on Sunday. If you want to see Harry Styles, Lizzo and more perform, here's how to tune in.
2 days ago
This photo purports to show the suspected Chinese balloon flying over Mills River, North Carolina, ...
Heather Chen and Wayne Chang, CNN

China says it ‘reserves the right’ to deal with ‘similar situations’ after US shoot down suspected spy balloon

China says it "reserves the right" to deal with "similar situations" following the United States' decision to shoot down its high-altitude balloon.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
UN calls for proof of Chinese tennis stars whereabouts