Where is Peng Shuai? Williams 'devastated' after player vanishes following sexual assault allegation

19 November 2021, 00:23 | Updated: 19 November 2021, 07:40

Peng has not been heard from since making allegations of sexual assault against China's former vice-premier
Peng has not been heard from since making allegations of sexual assault against China's former vice-premier. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Tennis star Serena Williams has called for an investigation after concerns grow for the welfare of Chinese player Peng Shuai, who has not been seen for two weeks.

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Peng, a former world doubles number one, has not been heard from since making allegations of sexual assault against China's former vice-premier in a post on the social media platform Weibo two weeks ago.

Now Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, has expressed concern for the 35-year-old. "I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai," Williams wrote on Twitter.

"I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.

"Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time."

Top players including Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic have spoken out, and the hashtag WhereisPengShuai is trending online.

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Peng wrote in a lengthy social media post on November 2 that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier who was a member of the ruling Communist Party's top leadership committee, had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals three years ago.

The post was quickly deleted from her verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive accusation quickly spread across China's internet.

The calls come after a letter purportedly from the Chinese player appeared on Chinese state media before quickly being removed today, as worries continue to mount.

Head of the WTA Steve Simon, whom Chinese media claimed was the recipient of the former world doubles number one's letter, has insisted Peng's voice must be heard, suggesting the issue could jeopardise the tour's future in China despite the huge sums of money at stake.

In a statement, Mr Simon said: "The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.

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"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.

"Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government.

"The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail.

"Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.

"The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to."

Chinese officials have said nothing publicly since the accusation about two weeks ago by Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai that she was sexually assaulted by a former top government official.