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Naomi Osaka has become the latest highest-profile player to speak out on ‘missing’ Peng Shuai’s situation. The Chinese tennis star reportedly “vanished” after accusing the former vice premier of China of sexual assault in a detailed social media post. The WTA and ATP Tours have also released their own respective statements regarding the matter.
Peng – a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion – accused Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a lengthy post to Weibo, China’s Facebook equivalent, on November 2.
The 35-year-old’s post detailed abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of the now-retired politician who is 40 years her senior, as well as an on-off consensual relationship with the now-75-year-old.
The post was removed from Weibo within minutes, with searches for Peng’s name and even the word ‘tennis’ (‘wangqiu’) subsequently blocked, but the story has continued to rock the country as it was the first account made against a high-ranking member of China’s Communist Party, as Zhang served on the party’s Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top ruling council – between 2012 and 2017.
Zhang has not responded to the claims, while a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegations when asked about the subject, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”
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A week after the former doubles No 1 took to Weibo to accuse the former vice premier of sexual assault, it was reported that she had ‘vanished’ after no one had seen her or heard from her.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has now addressed the situation, slamming the censorship of Peng and her allegations, and sending love to the 35-year-old.
“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,” the former world No 1 wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.
“Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok.
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“I’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way. #whereispengshuai”
On Sunday, the WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon told the New York Times that sources had told him Peng was “fine and doing okay” but admitted that nobody had been able to reach the tennis star directly.
“We’ve had all of our contacts and all of our team on the tour that has had contact and relationships with her through the years reaching out,” he said.
His words came after a statement was released by the WTA earlier that day, saying the women’s tour was calling for a “full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations against former Chinese leader and also calls for end of censorship against Peng Shuai.”
On Monday, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi also issued a statement regarding Peng Shuai, saying the tour was “encouraged” by the “assurances” the WTA received saying Peng was safe and accounted for, but said they would “continue to monitor the situation closely” and stand in full support of WTA’s call for a “full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai.”
ATP world No 1 Novak Djokovic addressed the situation on Tuesday, becoming, alongside Osaka, the highest-profile player to speak up.
“It’s shocking and terrible that she’s missing. More so that it’s someone I have seen on the tour quite a few times in the previous years. I hope she will be found,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said.
In the 35-year-old’s Weibo post, she said the former vice premier had first coerced her after she visited his home to play tennis, writing: “That afternoon I didn’t give my consent and couldn’t stop crying. You brought me to your house and forced me and you to have relations.”
Zhang reportedly cut all ties with her when he had been promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee the following year.
After he retired from politics in 2018, Peng said Zhang invited her for dinner with his wife, after which she alleges he pressured her into sex.
Peng concluded her post: “I know that for someone of your stature, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you have said you are not afraid. But even as an egg hurled at a rock, a moth to a flame for self-destruction, I will speak the truth about you.”
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