Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has not been seen in public for 18 days. It comes after she accused a former Chinese Communist Party leader of sexual assault on November 2. This sparked serious concern within the WTA and the tennis community about his fate.
The former Roland Garros and Wimbledon doubles champion claimed retired Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli forced her to have sex three years ago in an online post that has since been removed from the site Chinese social media network Weibo. Peng has not been seen in public since, other than a video heavily scrutinized by Chinese state media posted at a restaurant in Beijing on Saturday.
The WTA has actively pressured China to confirm Peng’s safety and investigate his allegations, even threatening to pull his lucrative business out of the country if these steps are not taken. The White House and the United Nations have also come to Peng’s defense, as both have called for investigations into his allegations and his disappearance.
Peng’s tennis peers were equally supportive, with Novak Djokovic describing his disappearance as “shocking” and Chris Evert describing the big picture as “worrying”. Billie Jean King wrote that she hopes Peng, a former world number 1, will be found safe and sound AlizÃ© Cornet added “Let’s not be silent” with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
The most prominent tennis player on the planet, Naomi Osaka, tweeted that she was “in shock at the current situation” and that she “sends him love and light”.
Serena Williams, the preeminent force in the sport long before Osaka, shared the same image of Peng with equally concerned sentiment.
Here’s a chronological look at how things have evolved with Peng, starting with the latest updates:
November 20: Chinese state media publish first images of Peng since his disappearance
Chinese state media shared a video of Peng dining in Beijing, a day after claiming the tennis star shared three photos on Chinese social media platform WeChat. Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, who posted the video on Twitter, said the dinner took place on Saturday and included Peng’s friends and coach.
The video comes after Xijin tweeted Peng was staying “freely” at home and “would soon participate in some activities” on Friday.
While WTA CEO Steve Simon said seeing Peng in the video was a “positive” development, he described the evidence as “insufficient” and remained “concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety, and that the sexual assault allegation is censored and swept under the rug. “
“It is still unclear whether she is free and capable of making decisions and acting on her own, without coercion or outside interference,” said Simon.
According to a Sky News translation, people dining with Peng made several references to the date and his recent performance. Peng did not speak herself in the video.
November 19: White House and UN call for investigation into Peng Shuai situation
The White House has broken its silence on Peng’s situation by demanding proof of his security and condemning China’s censorship. Press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House was “deeply concerned” over the tennis star’s disappearance and was seeking “independent and verifiable evidence” of his location and condition.
The day before, US President Joe Biden had said he “was considering” a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing because of the country’s handling of human rights issues.
âFirst, all reports of sexual assault must be investigated, and we support women’s ability to speak out and hold themselves accountable, whether here or elsewhere in the world. Second, we will continue to defend freedom of expression, and we know that the PRC has zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those who speak out, and we continue to condemn these practices. ”
The United Nations has joined the White House’s defense of Peng, with UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Liz Throssell calling for a “full transparency” investigation.
“What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her plight and well-being, and we urge that there be a transparent investigation into her allegations of sexual assault. “said Throssell.
November 19: China says it is “unaware” of situation involving Shuai
China’s Foreign Ministry revealed that they were not “aware” of the situation around Peng Shuai, according to the Associated Press. Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the media that the case was “not a diplomatic issue” and added that he was “not aware of the situation”.
Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva, said the situation called for “a transparent investigation into his allegation of sexual assault.”
On Friday, the International Olympic Committee declined to comment on the case.
November 18: Simon and WTA threaten to withdraw Chinese companies
Simon doubled down on his threat to pull WTA business out of China, a country his organization has thrived in in recent years, if that didn’t confirm Peng’s safety and investigate his allegations.
“We are definitely ready to retire our business and face all the complications that come with it,” said Simon. CNN. “Because it’s definitely, it’s bigger than the business.”
“Women must be respected and not censored,” he added.
China hosted 19 WTA tournaments in 2019 alone for a total of $ 30.4 million in prize money. Shenzhen is set to host the WTA Finals from 2022 to 2030 after doing so in 2019 for the first time. The 2019 finals had a purse of $ 14 million.
November 17: WTA questions legitimacy of Peng Shuai’s statement
An email reportedly sent by Peng on Wednesday claimed that the WTA had not obtained his consent or verification before releasing his statement. These were Peng’s first public comments since his allegations, but some, including the WTA, had questions about the legitimacy of the statement.
“The information in this release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true,” read the email, which was tweeted by Chinese state-affiliated media China Global Television. Network. “I’m not missing and I’m not safe. I just had a rest at home and everything is fine.”
Simon then openly asked if Peng had been forced to write it down.
“The statement released today by Chinese state media regarding Peng Shuai only raises my concerns for his safety and fate,” he added. Simon wrote. “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source.”
Peng has still not been seen since it was posted to social media on November 2.
November 15: China remains silent on the allegations and the disappearance of Peng Shuai
Zhao Lijan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson noted “This is not a diplomatic question” when asked about Peng’s allegations, adding that he had “not heard of the problem.” The country, 13 days after Peng’s publication, still has not recognized him.
November 14: WTA CEO calls for investigation into situation
Steve Simon, chief executive of the WTA, called for a “full, fair and transparent” investigation into Peng’s allegations in a statement. At this point, no one had seen or heard of Peng for 12 days, prompting the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to spread on social media.
“Obviously, she showed enormous courage in public”, Simon told the New York Times. “Now we want to make sure that we move forward to a place where a full and transparent investigation is conducted. Everything else, I think, is an affront not only to our players but to all the women.”
Simon has threatened to take the WTA’s business out of China if the country does not properly investigate Peng’s allegations. China currently hosts 11 WTA tournaments and the tour finals in Shenzhen.
Although Simon could not directly confirm Peng’s location or condition, he told The Times that several sources – including the China Tennis Association – told him that she was “safe and not doing anything. subject to no physical threat â. Simon’s âunderstandingâ was that she was in Beijing.
November 2: Peng Shuai makes sexual assault allegations against Zhang
In a 1,600-word message to Weibo, Peng accused Zhang, 75, a former Chinese Communist Party leader, of urging her to have sex about three years ago. Peng, 35, claimed that the assault happened after Zhang invited her to play tennis with him and his wife at their home, but admitted that she had no evidence.
âI was so scared that afternoon,â wrote Peng, who claimed that a guard was on guard outside the door during the assault. “I never gave my consent, crying all the time.”
Peng said that she and Zhang got to know each other while the latter was the party leader of Tianjin from 2007 to 2012, and Zhang forced her to have sex after leaving her post as Chinese vice premier in 2017.
âI know that for someone of your stature, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you said you were not afraid,â Peng wrote. “But even if it’s like throwing an egg against a rock, or I’m like a flame-drawn moth, inviting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you.”
The post was deleted within 30 minutes, and Chinese censors blocked search terms such as Peng’s name.