AceShowbiz - The tennis community has spoken up to raise concern about the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. The professional athlete has disappeared from public view since making allegations of sexual assault against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli earlier this month, prompting Naomi Osaka and other fellow tennis stars to demand to know her whereabouts.
"I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused," former No. 1 woman tennis player Osaka tweeted on Tuesday, November 16. "Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way." She added the hashtag "#whereispengshuai," which went viral since Peng's disappearance.
Legendary tennis champion Billie Jean King added, "Hoping that Peng Shuai is found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated." Former world No. 1 star Chris Evert chimed in as writing, "Yes, these accusations are very disturbing. 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."
On Sunday, November 14, the Women's Tennis Association's chair and chief executive, Steve Simon, told The New York Times, "We've received confirmation from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that she is safe and not under any physical threat." However, Simon noted that no one associated the WTA Tour had been able to reach the athlete directly to confirm her status and cast doubt on the authenticity of an email that they have received.
"The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts," Simon said in a statement. "I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her."
He added, "Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship."
On November 2, Peng wrote in a since-deleted post on Weibo that Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex three years ago. While admitting that they had an on-off consensual relationship years ago, the 35-year-old athlete alleged that Zhang forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago. She said Zhang's wife guarded the door during the incident.
Her Weibo account, which has more than half a million followers, has since been blocked from searchers on the platform.