Tennis Player Peng Shuai Missing After Accusing Chinese Official of Sexual Assault, Athletes Voice Concern
Some of the world's top tennis players are raising concerns regarding the whereabouts of former doubles champion Peng Shuai after she accused a Chinese official of sexual assault.
In a since-deleted post from Nov. 2 on her Weibo microblog, Peng alleged that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex several years ago and that she later agreed to a consensual affair with him, according to Reuters, The Washington Post and CNN.
The post was deleted about 30 minutes after it was published, CNN and Reuters report. Screenshots of the post have been circulating on social media.
Peng, 35, has not been seen in public or heard from directly since making the accusation, according to multiple reports.
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On Sunday, Women's Tennis Association chairman Steve Simon released a statement calling for an investigation into Peng's accusations.
"Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness," Simon said. "In all societies, the behavior she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored. We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward. Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected."
He continued, "We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship. Our absolute and unwavering priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so justice can be done."
On Sunday, Simon told the New York Times that no one associated with the WTA Tour, including officials and players, had spoken directly with Peng. However, he said: "We've received confirmation from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that she is safe and not under any physical threat."
"My understanding is that she is in Beijing in China, but I can't confirm that because I haven't spoken directly with her," Simon told the Times.
Peng is a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion. Fellow tennis stars, including Naomi Osaka and Billie Jean King, have expressed concerns over Peng's safety in light of her allegations.
"Hey everyone, not sure if you've been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused," Osaka wrote in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday. "Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way."
On Sunday, King shared Simon's statement on her social media. She wrote she was "hoping Peng Shuai is found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated."
Chris Evert, 18-time Grand Slam champion, wrote on social media that Peng's accusations "are very disturbing."
"I've known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated," she continued.
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On Monday, the Association of Tennis Professionals joined the WTA's call for an investigation into Peng's allegations.
"There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our tennis community. We have been deeply concerned by the uncertainty surrounding the immediate safety and whereabouts of WTA player Peng Shuai," ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said. "We are encouraged by the recent assurances received by WTA that she is safe and accounted for and will continue to monitor the situation closely."
Gaudenzi concluded, "Separately, we stand in full support of WTA's call for a full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault carried out against Peng Shuai."
Despite the concern among the tennis community, China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the Agence France-Presse on Monday: "I have not heard of the issue you raised."
Lijian said that the situation "is not a diplomatic question" and declined to comment further, AFP reported.