China remains silent on the whereabouts of Peng Shuai, who has not been seen since making a sexual assault allegation against a former top Chinese official.
It seems quite remarkable that, in 2021, a top sports star can vanish from the face of the planet without a worldwide outcry that something be done.
Still, here we are. Sure, some players, officials and journalists are speaking out, but the level of coverage is light.
On November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted a message on social media accusing Zhang Gaoli, the former vice-president of Beijing, of forcing her to have sex against her will.
Within 20 minutes, the message was removed from the Chinese platform, Weibo. Peng’s entire social media presence followed before the player herself disappeared. Her Weibo account appears to be active again, but it is silent and comments have been disabled.
Former number 1 tennis star, Naomi Osaka is the latest to speak out, saying “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. #whereispengshuai.”
“I don’t have much information about it,” Novak Djokovic said when asked about the 35-year-old. “I did hear about it a week ago.
“Honestly, it’s shocking that she’s missing, more so that it’s someone that I have seen on the tour in the previous years quite a few times.
“It’s not much more to say than hope that she will be found, that she’s OK. It’s just terrible. I can imagine just how her family feels that she’s missing.”
Stacey Allaster, the former CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), said the tennis world, if not the rest of it, has put Peng’s health and safety ahead of business.
“Our sport is focusing on the health and safety of Peng Shuai, business is secondary,” said Allaster.
“It is tough and it also is tough for this very courageous young woman that has broken her silence and come forward with these allegations.”
In a statement on Sunday, WTA chairman and CEO, Steve Simon said, “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,” he said.
There has been speculation that Peng is being held under house arrest (Telegraph).
Peng has admitted that she did have a consensual relationship with Zhang, 75, although said the nature of it was ‘on and off’. This in no way diminishes her allegation that one of the times, around three years ago, after an invite to his home, sex between the two of them was not consensual.
Peng also claimed that another person ‘stood guard’ outside the bedroom as it happened.
In addition to his role in Beijing as senior vice-premier in China from 2013 to 2018, Zhang was also one of seven men on the CCP Politiburo, ‘China’s highest ruling council’.
The New York Times reported that this is the first time such a high ranking Chinese politician has faced such allegations.
The whole matter has been subject to blanket censorship with the word ‘tennis’ even being blocked out at one point in China.
At the time of writing, there is no still no news on where Peng is or if she is safe.
A spokesman for the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs, which deals with international media, told reporters he was not aware of the situation.
“I have not heard of the issue you raised,” the spokesman, Zhao Lijian said.
“This is not a diplomatic question.”