China's 'Model Tennis Player' Accused a Politician of Sexual Abuse. And Then Went Missing

As #WhereIsPengShuai trends on Twitter, top tennis stars past and present, from Naomi Osaka to Martina Navratilova, have urged action.

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Where is Peng Shuai? For almost two weeks now, the Chinese doubles tennis player appears to have gone missing. On November 2, the 35-year-old had accused former Vice Premier and member of the Politburo Standing Committee Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

After they had a temporary affair 10 years ago, Zhang had tried to force her to have sex against her will in his flat in 2018, says Peng: “I can’t describe how disgusted I was and how many times I wondered if I was still human. I feel like a walking corpse,” she wrote.

The post was deleted a short time later and searches for Peng on Weibo ceased to yield any relevant results. The discussion had been censored and the tennis player’s whereabouts remains unknown.

Djokovic adds voice to growing concern

French professional player Alize Cornet has called on Twitter under #WhereIsPengShuai to speak out for the Chinese player: “We should not be silent.” Former tennis superstars Chris Evert and Billie Jean King also expressed concern about Peng’s fate, before men’s world number one, Novak Djokovic, spoke out following his win over Casper Rudd at the ATP Finals on Monday.

“I did hear about it a week ago. Honestly, it’s shocking that she’s missing, more so that it’s someone that I have seen on the tour in the previous years quite a few times. It’s not much more to say than hope that she will be found, that she’s okay. It’s terrible … I can imagine just how her family feels that she’s missing.”

WTA: ‘Investigate allegations without censorship’

The World Association of Professional Women Tennis Players (WTA) is alarmed. “The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern,” WTA chief Steve Simon said, adding that the Chinese player had shown “remarkable courage.”

“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.”

Former  serial champion Martina Navratilova assessed Simon’s statement on Twitter as “a very strong stance by WTA — and the correct stance.”

More than two weeks after Peng posted her accusation, Simon had to issue a second statement. This time, he was reacting to an e-mail, sent to the WTA and also published by Chinese state media, allegedly sent from Peng confirming her well-being.

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” WTA chief Steve Simon wrote in a statement.

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” he added.

In recent years, the WTA has expanded greatly in the Chinese market. In 2019, nine WTA tournaments were held in the country, culminating in the WTA Finals in Shenzhen. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 season finale had been cancelled and moved to Guadalajara in Mexico this year. However, the WTA announced that the prestigious tournament would be staged in Shenzhen again from 2022 to 2030.

‘Not under any physical threat’

According to WTA chief Simon, no one from the tennis scene has been able to contact Peng since the post was published on Weibo. However, the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) has assured him that Peng is safe and “not under any physical threat,” Simon told the New York Times newspaper.

Peng Shuai has so far been regarded as China’s model tennis player, in whose achievements the leadership in Beijing liked to bask. In 2013, she and her doubles partner Hsieh Su-wei, from Taiwan, won the Grand Slam tournament at Wimbledon, and in 2014 the French Open in Paris. For 20 weeks, Peng was at the top of the doubles world rankings.

This article first appeared on DW. Read the original here.