Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai was seen at venues during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics but her present whereabouts remain a mystery ©Getty Images

A year on since posting a message on social media alleging she had been sexually assaulted by former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, tennis player Peng Shuai is still in an unknown location.

The message on the Weibo platform was deleted within 20 minutes and Peng was not seen for two weeks afterwards.

But the allegations reverberated through tennis and the sporting world, prompting leading players such as Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka to question Peng's safety amid fears that she was being sanctioned and controlled by Chinese authorities.

Despite fleeting personal contact and emails said to emanate from her, there is no certainty over Peng's whereabouts or well-being.

Meanwhile the politician against whom she laid her original allegations returned to the public eye recently when he sat at a head table along with other retired senior members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the opening of its Congress on October 16 in the Great Hall of the People.

Peng was seen watching figure skating, curling and freeski competitions during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, having had a meeting with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on February 6.

Peng also did an interview with French newspaper L'Équipe during the Games in which she retracted her allegations about the high-ranking CCP official.

But Marc Ventouillac, one of the two French journalists who spoke to Peng, admitted it was "impossible to say" whether she was able to speak freely and that the interview did not prove she was free and well.

Peng Shuai met IOC President Thomas Bach during Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images
Peng Shuai met IOC President Thomas Bach during Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

In a statement published during the Winter Games, Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief executive Steve Simon claimed Peng's in-person interview "does not alleviate any of our concerns".

He added: "To reiterate our view, Peng took a bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader.

"As we would do with any of our players globally, we have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng - privately - to discuss her situation.

"We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai."

The WTA Finals currently underway in Fort Worth in Texas was initially supposed to be held in Shenzhen in China after a deal was struck for the city to host the event from 2019 to 2028.

However, it did not stage the 2020 and 2021 editions due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It was then announced in December of last year that the WTA was suspending all tournaments in China and Hong Kong because of concerns over the Chinese Government's treatment of Peng.

Its stance continues to be at odds with that of the IOC, which went ahead with Beijing 2022.

WTA chief executive Steve Simon has been unconvinced about Peng Shuai's welfare despite receiving messages claiming to have come from her ©Getty Images
WTA chief executive Steve Simon has been unconvinced about Peng Shuai's welfare despite receiving messages claiming to have come from her ©Getty Images

Critics accused the IOC of letting the Winter Olympics become a vehicle for Chinese propaganda through its meetings with Peng and her numerous appearances at an event where spectators were largely banned.

"The IOC Athletes' Commission has been in regular contact with Peng Shuai, several times since the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, and recently again as reported after the last meeting of the IOC EB," the IOC said in a statement.

"A visit to Europe continues to be discussed, as was agreed in Beijing. 

"The timing of the planned visit will depend on the COVID situation in China."

In August, the International Tennis Federation President David Haggerty, an IOC member, revealed that he speaks with Peng via email and wants to meet her "face-to-face".

The ITF said it had been "reassured by Peng Shuai that she is well" and will continue to "seek assurances of her ongoing safety".

But it is understood the WTA has not had any meaningful contact with Peng since this episode began a year ago and her whereabouts are unknown.

The IOC, WTA and ITF have been asked for comment.