Tennis star Naomi Osaka says she was shocked to hear about a fellow player who has gone quiet since making a sexual assault allegation against a former government official in China.
The former world number one posted on social media yesterday to join those asking: where is Peng Shuai?
In a Twitter post, Ms Osaka wrote: “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, who is Japanese, said she hoped Ms Peng and her family “are safe and OK”.
“I’m in shock of the current situation,” she wrote, “and I’m sending love and light her way.”
Other leading players, in- cluding men’s number one Novak Djokovic, expressed shock at the situation, and the organisers of the women’s and men’s professional tennis tours have called for an investigation into the allegations.
Ms Peng wrote in a lengthy social media post earlier this month that a former vice-premier had forced her to have sex. The post was removed from her account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, and China’s entirely state-controlled media has suppressed all reporting on the case.
Reports circulated overseas for more than a week before Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chairman Steve Simon issued a statement saying: “Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault has to be treated
with the utmost seriousness.”
The men’s tour followed suit, with ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi saying tennis authorities were “deeply concerned by the uncertainty surrounding the immediate safety and whereabouts of WTA player Peng Shuai”.
“We are encouraged by the recent assurances received by WTA that she is safe and accounted for and will continue to monitor the situation,” Mr Gaudenzi said. “We stand in full support of WTA’s call for a transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai.”
Ms 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 despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago. She said Mr Zhang’s wife guarded the door during the incident.