Sunday’s WTA tour called on the Chinese government to investigate Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegations against a former Chinese vice-premier, while calling for an end to the censorship of the former senior double player.
One of China’s biggest sports stars, Peng, claimed on her Weibo social media account on Nov. 2 that Zhang Gaoli, who became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top decision-making body – forced her to have sex, and she later forced her to have sex consensual on-off relationship.
Peng said in the post, which was deleted about half an hour after it was posted, that she had no evidence to support her allegations.
The Chinese Tennis Association did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
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China’s internet is heavily censored and the private life of top executives is a particularly sensitive issue. Zhang, now 75, was Deputy Prime Minister between 2013 and 2018 and served on the Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017.
Concerns have grown in the global tennis community as Peng has not been seen since the post.
The WTA said in a statement that it will seek a “full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations” against a former Chinese leader.
“The recent events in China surrounding a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are a matter of great concern,” WTA Tour Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in the statement.
“Peng Shuai and all women deserve to be heard and not censored.
“Your allegation of sexual assault behavior by a former Chinese leader must be treated with the utmost seriousness.”
Peng was number one in the world in doubles in 2014, becoming the first Chinese player to achieve a top finish after winning Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in doubles in 2014.
China, the focus of the tour’s most aggressive expansion in the past decade, hosted nine tournaments in the 2019 season, including the elite WTA finals for a total of $ 30.4 million in prize money.
The end of the season WTA final, which featured the world’s eight best singles and eight doubles teams, had $ 14 million in prize money in 2019 when it was first played in Shenzhen.
The final was canceled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico this year.
The WTA said the tournament will return to Shenzhen from 2022 and the Chinese city will host each edition until 2030.
“I think everyone fully understands what’s at stake here on many different fronts,” Simon told the New York Times on Sunday. “I think we are absolutely certain, from the players to the board of directors to the council, that the only acceptable approach is to do the right thing.”
Simon told the Times that no one spoke to Peng directly on the WTA Tour, but that the organization had received assurance from the Chinese Tennis Association that it was safe.