Peng Shuai, tennis

Update as of Nov. 22

Shuai has finally been heard from. In a recent video call with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, the tennis star reiterated she is safe.

Also on the call was Chinese sports official, Li Lingwei, and the Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho.

Original story

Three weeks ago, Peng Shuai posted on social media that she had endured “forced” sexual encounters with China’s former Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli. Soon after the post was taken down and Ms. Peng has neither been heard from nor seen publicly since.

Shuai is a Chinese professional tennis player who has been ranked world No. 1 doubles by the WTA in 2014. She was the first Chinese women’s tennis player to be honored with this high of a ranking.

The deleted post on Weibo, (i.e. the equivalent of Twitter) contained screenshots alleging Gaoli had coerced her into sex at his house three years prior. With Chinese internet censors quick to remove the accusations, the post lasted less than three minutes. Fortunately, with over half a million followers — people saw. All the comments under that specific post have been deleted as was the ability to comment on any post. Now, Shuai’s account is blocked from searches on the social media platform.

Concern & support from other tennis players:

Top names in tennis have spoken out raising awareness of the situation. Former women’s #1 world-ranked Serena Williams tweeted her emotions surrounding the disappearnce.

Current men’s #1 ranked Novak Djokovic commented he was shocked and hoped Shuai was okay. Also weighing in on the issue was the ESPY Award-winning for Best Female Athlete, Naomi Osaka. “I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused. 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.” 

Worldwide attention

The only glimpse of hope from Peng Shuai comes from a scrutinized email that Shuai allegedly wrote to the World Tennis Association. In the email, Shuai claims to be under no physical threat and recants her claim of sexual assault. Yet, since receiving the email, the inability of the WTA to contact Shuai directly raises apprehension. The WTA Chair, Steve Simon, asserted a firm stance in stating, “The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe.”

The spokesman for China’s foreign ministry refused to give additional comment beyond stating, “This is not a foreign affairs matter. And I am not aware of the relevant situation you mentioned.”

More details to come as this story develops.


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