Peng, 35, wrote a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, alleging sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Peng claimed Zhang, 75, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago.
The post was quickly deleted and Peng has since disappeared from social media and public view. Tennis players and officials, led by Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) CEO Steve Simon, are demanding a full investigation into Peng’s claims as well as assurances of her safety and wellbeing.
Two more videos overnight Saturday surfaced that showed Peng at the opening ceremony of a teenage tennis match in Beijing. Event organizers also posted photos of Peng on the event’s official WeChat page, Reuters reported.
But the WTA told Fox News that the new video – along with other photos and videos posted by the editor of the Beijing-backed news agency The Global Times – do not change the organization’s stance or threats to pull tournaments from the country.
“Everything remains as we stated yesterday and the past few days,” a WTA spokesperson said in an email. “Consistent with what Steve Simon stated yesterday, the photos and video remain insufficient. They do not address WTA’s concerns.”
Global Times editor Hu Xijin on Friday posted two videos that show Peng dining in the Yibin Guesthouse restaurant supposedly over the weekend. Peng and her coach and friends sit in the restaurant talking. At one point, the coach says, “Tomorrow, isn’t tomorrow November 20?” A woman beside Peng says “21st,” and the coach agrees, “November 21st.” The woman reiterates, “Tomorrow is the 21st,” and the coach again agrees, “November 21st.”
The second video shows Peng entering the restaurant with the date prominently featured on the door, but the actual day smudged out.
Sky News sent reporters to the locations in question – the restaurant from Friday’s video and the stadium in Sunday’s video – and asked staff at both locations if they had seen Peng.
A waitress at the restaurant told Sky reporters that Peng was there even though they personally did not see her.
“No, I didn’t,” the waitress said. “Yesterday I was busy with my work here. I didn’t see her. But she had a meal in our restaurant.”
Staff at the stadium claimed they had seen her, but they hurriedly escorted the Sky reporter out of the facility, saying, “you can’t be here, sorry.”
The various appearances have all come from state-backed media. Peng’s Weibo account, where she posted her allegations, remains blocked.
Despite growing international pressure, Beijing continues to maintain that it is “unaware” of Peng’s situation. Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Friday the matter was “not a diplomatic question, and I’m not aware of the situation” – a stance he has maintained whenever a reporter asks about Peng.
But the progress from total silence for two weeks to multiple videos and pictures over the past few days shows that Beijing has felt the pressure from tennis and Western government officials.
Simon has threatened to pull the dozen or so tournaments held in China each year if Beijing does not agree to a formal, independent investigation into Peng’s allegations even though that move could hurt tennis itself.
Former tennis player and doubles champ Patrick McEnroe spoke with New York Times reporter Christopher Clarey on his podcast “Holding Court,” and Clarey noted that pulling back from China presents financial difficulties: A tournament held last week in Guadalajara produced a smaller cash prize than if the tournament occurred in China, and Clarey claimed that around one-third of the WTA’s total prize money or revenue comes from China.
McEnroe last week told Fox News that the move would provide a significant economic blow to any sport, but McEnroe highlighted how tennis has had to cope with “the reality” of less lucrative tournaments during the pandemic, which he said proves tennis can cope with the changes.
“I feel proud to be part of the tennis community and, in my own small way, doing my part to speak out about it,” McEnroe said. “I feel this is the moment for us together and say ‘This isn’t right.’”