Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has gone missing after accusing Zhang Gaoli, the country’s former vice premier, of sexual abuse.
Shuai detailed the allegations in a now-deleted post uploaded to Weibo, a Chinese social media site, on Nov. 2. In addition to the post disappearing within 20 minutes of its publication, all of her recent content on the site has also disappeared. Searches of her name appeared to be blocked in China, as well as the Chinese word for “tennis” for a short time.
In the post, Peng revealed that she and Zhang have been involved in an on-and-off affair since 2011 when the two met. She says she slept with Zhang once that year before he was promoted and cut ties. Then, in 2018, she says they rekindled the affair after Zhang retired from politics. Peng says she was invited to dinner with Zhang and his wife. Afterward, Peng says he pressured her into sex.
The tennis player recalls “crying” and refusing his advances before relenting. Peng says that then kicked off a three-year affair that she described as “unpleasant.”
The post also states that she has “no evidence” because Zhang insisted on total secrecy.
Since uploading the post, Shuai has gone silent and has not been seen in public.
The player became a household name in 2014 when she won the French Open doubles. She has also been ranked as high as No. 1 in doubles and No. 14 in singles, reaching the U.S. Open singles semifinals in 2014.
WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon has since issued a statement, calling the recent events “of deep concern.”
“As an organization dedicated to women, we remain committed to the principles we were founded on — equality, opportunity and respect,” he wrote. “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 behavior she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored.”
He then added that the WTA expects the issue to be “handled properly,” including a full investigation that is fair, transparent and “without censorship.”
The ATP also issued a statement, giving full support to the WTA’s call for an investigation into the matter.
“There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our tennis community,” said ATP chairman, Andrea Gaudenzi. “We have been 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 closely.”
According to the New York Times, those at the WTA have been assured that Peng is safe in China.
“We’ve received confirmation from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that she is safe and not under any physical threat,” Simon told the New York Times. However, according to Simon and the NY Times, no one associated with the WTA Tour — including officials and active players — has been able to reach her directly to confirm those reports.
“My understanding is that she is in Beijing in China, but I can’t confirm that because I haven’t spoken directly with her,” Simon added.
Peng’s last appearance on the WTA Tour was in February 2020.