The WTA, which governs women’s tennis, finally broke its silence on Sunday about Chinese player Peng Shuai who has reportedly been missing for the last 10 days after making allegations of sexual abuse against a senior politician.
In a statement the WTA called for the allegations to be “investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship”.
Peng, 35, a doubles champion at Wimbledon and the French Open, has been erased from Chinese internet and social media sites since accusing former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of rape on her Weibo account - the equivalent of Twitter.
It is the first time that the #MeToo movement has reached the highest echelons of the ruling Communist Party.
“The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern,” said WTA chairman Steve Simon in a statement released Sunday. “As an organization dedicated to women, we remain committed to the principles we were founded on - equality, opportunity and respect.
“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 added: “We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.
“Our absolute and unwavering priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so justice can be done.”
Release of the statement followed considerable criticism of the WTA’s silence as fans and players, including 18-time Grand Slam winner Chris Evert, rallied online around the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
“Yes, these accusations are very disturbing,” tweeted Evert on Sunday.
“I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated.”
The hashtag was also used on Saturday by French player Alize Cornet who said “let’s not remain silent” and British Davis Cup player Liam Broady who wrote on Sunday: “I can’t believe that this is even happening in the 21st century.”
Hundreds of others have used the hashtag to ask the same question, emphasising the silence of the continued silence of the International Federation.
“The fact that Peng Shuai is missing is not only the WTA’s problem. We are all concerned,” tweeted another French player, Nicolas Mahut, on Sunday after the statement was released.
On November 4, China’s online censors scrubbed out Peng’s reported allegations that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her,
Peng alleged that Zhang, who is now in his seventies, had “forced” her into sex and they had an on-off relationship that lasted several years.
The post appeared to have been deleted quickly and AFP was unable to verify the authenticity of the screenshots containing the allegation, or substantiate the claims made in them.
Weibo data indicated that the post on Peng’s verified account was viewed more than 100,000 times, but the contents are unknown.
There has been no further word from Peng and also no public response from Zhang, a former member of China’s powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and reportedly close to Premier Li Keqiang.
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