Missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai makes public reappearance at Beijing youth tournament

Missing tennis star Peng Shuai reappeared in public at a youth tournament in Beijing on Sunday, according to photos released by the organizer, as the Chinese Communist Party tried to allay fears abroad about Peng after accusing a senior executive of sexual assault.

The China Open post on social media service Weibo made no mention of Peng’s disappearance or his accusation. Peng was shown standing next to a court, waving and signing oversized children’s commemorative tennis balls.

A video of the event was also posted to social media by state media, along with another video posted on Saturday that appears to show Peng in a restaurant.

The appearances followed an announcement by the editor of a party newspaper on Saturday on Twitter, which cannot be seen by most internet users in China, that the three-time Olympian will “appear in public” soon.

Women’s Tennis Association president and CEO Steve Simon released a statement on Saturday questioning Peng’s current freedom.

“While it is positive to see her, it is still unclear whether she is free and capable of making decisions and acting on her own, without coercion or outside interference,” Simon said. “This video alone is insufficient. As I said from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the sexual assault allegation is being censored and swept under the rug. have been clear on what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads. “

The Communist Party has faced increasing appeals from tennis stars and the professional touring of the sport to prove that Peng, a three-time Olympian and former No. 1-ranked women’s doubles player, is safe and able to speak freely.

Roger Federer became the latest star player to voice concerns about Peng on Saturday.

“She is one of our tennis champions, a former world No. 1, and that is clearly concerning,” Federer told Sky Italia. “I hope she’s safe. The tennis family is tight-knit and I have always told my children that the tennis family is my second family. I have been on tour for 20-25 years and love the tour, I like the people who are there, [they] are special, so are the players, and she is one of them. “

The controversy is politically sensitive as the Chinese capital prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February. China’s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly denied any knowledge of Peng’s case and denied being aware of the outcry over his disappearance.

Peng, 35, posted a social media statement earlier this month accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the Party’s Standing Committee, the inner circle of power, of forcing her to have sex despite repeated refusals. .

CGTN, the English-speaking branch of China’s Central Television that speaks to foreign audiences, released a statement this week from Peng who dropped the charges against Zhang. Global Times party newspaper editor Hu Xijin wrote on Twitter on Saturday that Peng “is staying at home freely” and “will appear in public and participate in certain activities soon.”

Emma Terho, President of the Athletes’ Commission of the International Olympic Committee, tweeted on Saturday that the body “is very concerned about the situation of three-time Olympian Peng Shuai”.

“We support the low-key diplomatic approach that is adopted and hope that it will lead to the publication of information on Peng Shuai’s fate and the confirmation of his safety and well-being,” Terho added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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