WTA calls for investigation after China's Peng Shuai accuses ex-govt. leader of sexual assault

·3-min read

The Women's Tennis Association called for an investigation on Sunday following an allegation by Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai that a retired government official sexually assaulted her.

Peng made the accusation on Chinese social media outlet Weibo on Nov. 2. Reuters reports that she hasn't been seen in public since the claim, prompting concerns in the tennis community about her safety.

Per a Washington Post translation, Peng, 35, wrote on Weibo that retired vice premier Zhang Gaoli pressured her into having sex after he and his wife invited her to their home for a meal in 2018. Zhang is either 74 or 75 years old, based on his government profile. She eventually agreed to an ongoing affair that Zhang insisted on keeping secret, according Peng's post.

“That afternoon I didn’t agree at first and kept crying,” she wrote. ... “I know I can’t say it all clearly, and that there’s no use in saying it. But I still want to say it.”

Peng Shuai of China returns to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia in their final match of the WTA Brussels Open tennis tournament May 25, 2013.    REUTERS/Eric Vidal (BELGIUM - Tags: SPORT TENNIS)
Peng Shuai reportedly hasn't been seein in public since her Nov. 2 accusation on social media. (Reuters/Eric Vidal)

Zhang was a member of China's Politburo Standing Committee, the nation's top government decision-making body. Peng wrote in her statement that she didn't have evidence to prove her allegation. The statement was deleted shortly after it was published but has been preserved via screenshots.

Per the Post, Peng's allegation marked a breakthrough moment in a MeToo movement that has been stifled in China amid censorship and government crackdowns against women's rights activists. With her allegation arriving against a former government official, traces of her accusation have been scrubbed from Chinese internet outlets controlled by the government.

Lu Pin, a U.S.-based Chinese feminist activist, expressed concern to the Post about Peng's safety.

“We are all very nervous about what will happen to her,” Lu told the Post. “At the same time, we feel this is something very important that has happened.”

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL,13:  (RUSSIA OUT) Chinese Vice Primier Zhang Gaoli attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence on April, 13, 2017 outside Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
Former Chinese Vice Primier Zhang Gaoli stands accused of sexual assault. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

WTA Chairman & CEO Steve Simon called for an investigation in a statement published Sunday while declaring that women "deserve to be heard, not censored."

“The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern," Simon's statement reads. "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. In all societies, the behavior she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored. We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward. Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected.

"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.”

Peng, a star athlete in China, rose to the world's No. 1 doubles ranking in 2014 after securing doubles championships at Wimbledon and the French Open. The China Tennis Association didn't respond to a Reuters request for statement following Sunday's WTA statement. Neither Zhang, nor the Chinese government have publicly addressed Peng's allegation.