Twenty-three-time Grand Slam singles tennis champion Serena Williams sent a tweet out on Thursday, Nov. 18, that expressed concerns about the whereabouts of a fellow women’s tennis player, two-time Grand Slam doubles champion and Chinese national Peng Shuai.
I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. 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. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021
Earlier this month Peng accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the China Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, of forcing her to have sex following a round of tennis three years ago.
Peng made the accusation on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform. Within 20 minutes the post was removed from her verified account, and Peng has not posted or been seen in public since.
Tennis superstars Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic as well as the legendary Billie Jean King have also expressed concern for Peng.
China is a one-party Communist government and has been sanctioned over the years for countless human rights violations.
The fact that Peng accused a high-ranking government official, the immediate deletion of her social media post, and the fact that she hasn’t been seen since is why many people are concerned.
The Chinese government maintains they are not aware of the situation.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that the matter was,
“not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry handles all things foreign policy for the country. The Foreign Minister is one of the most powerful individuals in China. Take what you will from that.
Making the situation even more bizarre is an alleged email sent by Peng to the CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, stating that she is indeed safe and just resting. Simon questioned the authenticity of the email as it was promoted by China’s state run media, CCTV.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has sent an email to Steve Simon, the WTA Chairman & CEO, CGTN has learned. The email reads: pic.twitter.com/uLi6Zd2jDI
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) November 17, 2021
Simon has since released a statement that read:
“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.
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.”
The 35-year-old former top-ranked player in women’s doubles won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. Peng is also a three-time Olympian, making her disappearance extremely important with Beijing set to host the Winter Games starting Feb. 4.
The International Olympic Committee unsurprisingly declined to comment but issued a statement which read:
“Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature. This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
The White House weighed in, asking for China to show “independent and verifiable proof” of Peng’s whereabouts.
The U.N. Human Rights Council said Friday from its Geneva, Switzerland, headquarters that it was calling for “an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”
Spokeswoman Liz Throssell said:
“And I think we would say that that should be the case into all allegations of sexual assault. It is really important to ensure accountability, to ensure justice for the victims,” she said.