Shocked Tennis Star Naomi Osaka Post: Where’s Peng Shuai?

BEIJING (AP) – Tennis star Naomi Osaka says she has been shocked to hear about a teammate who has been silent since being accused of sexually abusing a former top official in China.

In a Twitter post – under the hashtag WhereIsPengShuai – Osaka wrote: “Not sure if you’ve been following the news, but I was recently informed about another tennis player who has disappeared shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused “Censorship is never ok at any cost.”

The 24-year-old Osaka, who has not played at tour level since her U.S. Open title defense ended in a loss in the third round in September, said she hoped Peng and her family “are safe and ok.”

“I am in shock at the present situation,” she wrote, “and I send love and light her way.”

Other leading players, including men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic, expressed shock at the situation, and the organizers of the women’s and men’s professional tennis tours have called for a full investigation into the allegations made by the double Grand Slam doubles champion.

Peng wrote in a lengthy post on social media earlier this month that a former deputy prime minister had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals. The post was removed from her verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, and China’s completely state-controlled media has suppressed all reporting on the case.

Reports of the allegations circulated abroad for more than a week before WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon issued a statement saying, “Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored.”

“Her accusation of the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be taken very seriously.”

The men’s tour followed on Monday, with ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi saying the tennis authorities were “deeply concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the immediate safety and whereabouts of WTA player Peng Shuai.”

“We are encouraged by the recent assurances received by the WTA that she is safe and responsible and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Gaudenzi said. “Separately, we support the WTA’s call for a full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai.”

Peng, 35, wrote that Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister and member of the ruling Communist Party’s almighty standing committee in the Politburo, had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals after 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.

As is usual for retired Chinese officials, the 75-year-old Zhang fell out of public view after his retirement in 2018 and is not known to have any intimate professional or political connections with current leaders.

Peng won 23 doubles titles at tour level, including at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She was a semifinalist in singles at the US Open in 2014. Peng has not played in the top tier since the Qatar Open in February last year. , before restrictions were imposed on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peng also played in three Olympics – 2008, 2012 and 2016 – but the International Olympic Committee has remained silent about her allegations. The IOC and China are hosting the Winter Olympics in Beijing, starting on February 4.

Her accusation was the first against a prominent official since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018, before it was largely curbed by authorities the same year.

Asked during a daily briefing on Monday about Peng’s claim, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “I have not heard of the case and it is not a diplomatic question.”

In response to another question at Wednesday’s daily briefing, Zhao said he had no knowledge of Peng’s situation.

“Do you think the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry is omnipotent?” asked Zhao, a journalist. “I suggest you ask the relevant authorities about the relevant issue.”

More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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