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Tennis Players, Organizers Ask: Where Is Peng Shuai?

China's Shuai Peng in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino on Jan. 21, 2020 at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
Tennis Players, Organizers Ask: Where Is Peng Shuai?
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Tennis star Naomi Osaka says she has been shocked to hear about a Chinese player has who not spoken publicly since she accused a former top Chinese government official of sexual assault.

The Japanese former number-1-ranked, four-time major winner posted on social media on Wednesday to join those asking: where is Peng Shuai?

Osaka wrote on her social media account: "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. Censorship is never ok at any cost."

The 24-year-old Osaka said she hoped Peng and her family "are safe and ok." Peng wrote in a social media post on November 4 that a former vice premier had forced her to have sex even though she said no to him many times. The post was removed from her account on Chinese social media company Weibo. China's entirely state-controlled media has blocked all reporting on the case.

Peng won 23 doubles championships, including at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She was a semifinalist in singles at the U.S Open in 2014. Peng last played at the top level in the Qatar Open in February of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic restricted travel.

Peng also played in three Olympics — 2008, 2012, and 2016. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been silent about her statement. The IOC and China are organizing the Beijing Winter Olympics that start February 4.

Peng, 35, wrote that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the ruling Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, had forced her to have sex following a round of tennis three years ago. She said Zhang's wife guarded the door during the incident. Her post also said they had sex once seven years ago and she had feelings for him after that. Zhang, now 75, was a vice premier between 2013 and 2018 and served on the Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017.

FILE - Then Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli is seen during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 16, 2016.
FILE - Then Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli is seen during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 16, 2016.

Other players comment

Other leading players, including Novak Djokovic, expressed shock at the situation. Organizers of the women's and men's professional tennis competitions have called for a full investigation.

More than a week after Peng’s post, Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Chairman Steve Simon released a statement, saying "Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored." He added that her accusation of a sexual assault must be treated seriously.

The men's competition organizers followed Monday, with Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi saying tennis officials were "deeply concerned by the uncertainty surrounding the immediate safety and whereabouts of WTA player Peng Shuai." He added, "Separately, we stand in full support of WTA's call” for an investigation.

Peng’s accusation was the first against an important government official since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018. Since then, the government has suppressed accusations of sexual assault against officials.

Chinese Tennis Association says “she is safe”

WTA chief Simon told The New York Times on Sunday that no one at the organization has talked directly to Peng. He said he had been told by the Chinese Tennis Association that she was safe "and not under any physical threat."

China's State Council Information Office and the Chinese Tennis Association did not immediately answer requests for comment after the WTA issued its statement.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Amy Tenner and Steve Keating reported on this story for Reuters; AP Staff reported for AP. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

sexual assault – n. the crime of touching someone in an unwanted sexual way

fellow – adj. used to describe people who belong to the same group or class or who share a situation, experience, or the like

revealv. to make (something) known

censor v. to examine books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.

doublesn. a tennis game played by two players on each side

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