'Deep concern': Chinese tennis star vanishes after disturbing claims

Peng Shuai, pictured here after winning Wimbledon.
Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into having sex. Image: Getty

The WTA has called for an investigation after Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai seemingly vanished following disturbing allegations of sexual assault against a former vice premier.

Peng, one of China's biggest sporting stars, reportedly hasn't been seen or heard from for 10 days after earlier this month claiming Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex.

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Peng alleged on her Weibo social media account on November 2 that Gaoli, who became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee - China's top decision-making body - forced her into having sex despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago.

Her post also said they had sex once seven years ago and she had feelings for him after that.

Peng said in the post, which was deleted around half an hour after it was published, that she could provide no evidence to back her allegations.

China's internet is heavily censored and the private lives of top leaders are an especially sensitive subject.

Concerns among the global tennis community have grown in the past two weeks as Peng has not been seen since the post.

The WTA said in a statement on Sunday that it will seek a "full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations against the former Chinese leader".

"The recent events in China concerning WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern," said WTA Tour chairman and CEO Steve Simon.

“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 must be treated with the utmost seriousness.

"In all societies, the behaviour she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored.

"We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward. Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected.

“We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship."

Andrea Hlavackova and Peng Shuai, pictured here after winning the WTA Aegon Open in 2016.
Andrea Hlavackova and Peng Shuai Peng celebrate after winning the WTA Aegon Open in 2016. (Photo by Jon Buckle/Getty Images for LTA) (Jon Buckle)

Tennis world expresses concerns for Peng Shuai

Tennis great Chris Evert was among the many to express their concerns for Peng.

“Yes, these accusations are very disturbing,” Evert tweeted on Sunday.

“I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated.”

French player Nicholas Mahut tweeted: “The fact that Peng Shuai is missing is not only the WTA’s problem. We are all concerned."

While British star Liam Broady wrote: “I can’t believe that this is even happening in the 21st century.”

Peng became the World No.1 doubles player in 2014, the first Chinese player to achieve a top ranking.

She has won 23 tour-level doubles titles, including at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

The 35-year-old was a semi-finalist in singles at the US Open in 2014.

Her accusation was the first against a prominent government official since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018 before being largely tamped down by authorities the same year.

In the post, Peng wrote that Zhang, now 75, and his wife arranged to play tennis in Beijing about three years ago and that he later brought her into a room at his home where the assault occurred.

“I was so frightened that afternoon, never thinking that this thing could happen,” the post said.

Zhang retired in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life, as is usual with former Chinese officials.

with agencies

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