The WTA Tour has called on the Chinese government to investigate allegations of sexual assault made by Peng Shuai against a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, while also demanding an end to censorship of the former top-ranked doubles player.
Peng, one of China’s biggest sporting stars, alleged on her Weibo social media account on November 2 that Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.
Peng said in the post, which was deleted shortly after it was published, that she could provide no evidence to back her allegations.
In the post, Peng, 35, 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 says.
Her message on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, a platform heavily monitored by the Chinese authorities, was removed within 30 minutes.
Zhang retired in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life, as is usual with former Chinese officials. He was a vice premier between 2013 and 2018 and served on the Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017.
Concerns among the global tennis community have grown as Peng has not been seen since the post.
The WTA said in a statement that it will seek a, ‘full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations against a former Chinese leader.
‘The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern,’ said WTA Tour chairman and CEO Steve Simon in a statement.
‘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.’
Peng was the world’s number one doubles player in 2014, the first Chinese player to achieve a top ranking, after winning the doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.