The safety and whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has become a global concern since she faded from the public eye earlier this month.
The former doubles world number one recently made sexual assault allegations against China’s former vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli on social media platform Weibo.
Since then, a lot of questions are being asked about her wellbeing, but China’s foreign ministry has dismissed this as “malicious hyping” of the situation.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the ministry said the issues raised regarding Peng’s whereabouts are “not a diplomatic matter” and referred to the 35-year-old’s attendance at public activities in recent days.
Chinese state media recently published a letter purportedly written by Peng, which has raised serious concerns within the Women’s Tennis Association over the legitimacy of the letter and the safety of the tennis star.
“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe,” the letter read. “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”
On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee released a statement claiming Peng had spoken to president Thomas Bach via video call and confirmed “she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time.”
Peng was also filmed at a tennis event in Beijing over the weekend and another two clips posted to social media show her allegedly having dinner with associates in a restaurant.
However, WTA chief executive Steve Simon believes this is “insufficient” evidence to support the claim Peng is safe and well.
“I believe everyone will have seen she [Peng] has recently attended some public activities and also held a video call with the IOC president, [Thomas] Bach,” Lijan said. “I hope certain people will cease malicious hyping, let alone politicisation.”
After the allegations against Gaoli were posted on Weibo, the Chinese social media site deleted Peng’s original post and blocked other users from searching her name, and even the term ‘tennis’ on the platform.
Following her suspicious withdrawal from the public eye, an online campaign under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai has seen a number of high profile athletes get involved in finding answers.
Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have both joined the movement as concerns continue to grow over the legitimate safety of Peng.