Amid growing international attention on her plight, Chinese state media on Thursday suddenly released an email it said Peng had written to Women’s Tennis Association Chair Steve Simon.
The letter, the authenticity of which could not be verified, claimed Peng was resting at home and had never authorized for the original “not true” statement to be posted on Weibo.
But in a statement on Thursday, Simon said the purported Peng letter only made him more fearful for her safety.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” he said.
He called for “independent and verifiable proof” of her safety and a full investigation into her claims.
“Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source,” Simon said. “Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.”
Simon told CNN the WTA was prepared to no longer do business with China, and thus lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, if Peng was not accounted for.
“This is bigger than the business,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Women’s Sports Foundation, a US nonprofit founded in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King, told BuzzFeed News they supported the WTA’s position.
“We are deeply concerned and troubled by the disappearance of Peng Shuai and her allegation of sexual assault,” the spokesperson said. “We support the WTA’s demands for verifiable proof of her safety and that her allegations be respected and investigated with full transparency.”
But the letter was apparently enough for the International Olympic Committee, which has been mostly quiet on the disappearance of a three-time Olympian.
“We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe,” an IOC spokesperson said Thursday.
That tepid statement was criticized as feckless by broad swaths of the Western media and nongovernmental organizations.