The European Union has stepped in over the ‘disappearance’ of tennis player Peng Shuai. The former doubles world No 1 went missing after accusing China’s former vice premier of sexual assault on November 2 and, though she has made limited public appearances since, tennis bosses and EU officials want verifiable proof over her safety and wellbeing.
Peng took to Weibo on December 2 to accuse former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual abuse, and in her lengthy post also detailed a consensual on-and-off affair with the retired politician dating back to 2011.
The two-time doubles Grand Slam champion’s post was removed within half an hour, and is believed to be the first made against a high-ranking member of China’s Communist Party, as Zhang served on the party’s Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top ruling council – between 2012 and 2017.
Zhang has not responded to the claims, though a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegations when asked about the subject earlier this month, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”
The 35-year-old had not been seen or heard from for more than two weeks after making the accusations, but China’s state-affiliated media later shared several social media posts to account for Peng, including a statement she allegedly wrote on Wednesday November 17 and photos of herself she allegedly sent to a friend via WeChat on Friday November 19.
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On Sunday November 21, the former singles world No 14 also spoke with the president of the International Olympic Committee in a half-hour video call, with the IOC later releasing a statement claiming Peng told them she was “safe and well”.
However, the CEO and Chairman of the women’s tennis tour has continued to share his concerns for Peng and called the previous videos and photos of her “insufficient”.
The European Union has now stepped in on the matter and reiterated WTA boss Steve Simon’s worries and demands for proof of Peng’s safety, as well as an investigation into her allegations against the former vice premier.
An EU spokesperson said on Tuesday: “Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom.
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“The EU joins growing international demands, including by sport professionals, for assurances that she is free and not under threat.
“In this spirit, the EU requests the Chinese government to provide verifiable proof of Peng Shuai’s safety, well-being and whereabouts. The EU urges the Chinese authorities to conduct a full, fair and transparent investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.”
The EU’s recent statement comes after the WTA confirmed CEO and Chairman Simon had received two emails from Peng he believed were influenced by others, after numerous attempts to contact the Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion.
“Steve Simon has reached out to Peng Shuai via various communication channels,” the WTA said in a statement on Saturday.
“He has sent her two emails, to which it was clear her responses were influenced by others. He remains deeply concerned that Peng is not free from censorship or coercion and decided not to re-engage via email until he was satisfied her responses were her own, and not those of her censors. The WTA remains concerned about her ability to communicate freely, openly, and directly.”
The WTA boss himself has previously threatened to remove all tournaments from China, including the prestigious year-end WTA Finals which is currently in a ten-year deal to be held in Shenzhen, if the matter is not resolved as he has requested.
On Friday November 19, Simon sent a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, requesting assistance for the matter to be “successfully resolved”, detailing his two requirements in full.
He wrote: “First, there needs to be independent and verifiable confirmation that Peng Shuai is safe. So that her fellow players and fans everywhere can know she is safe, I request she be allowed to leave the country or speak live via teleconference with me with no one else present, unless it is with Peng’s permission.
“Second, the accusation of sexual assault is serious. As the leader of a women’s tennis organization, I think it is vital to see that this allegation is investigated fairly, fully, transparently and without censorship. Anything less would be a setback for the rights of women, not to mention the cause of justice.”Internet Explorer Channel Network