Tennis star Naomi Osaka has said she is shocked at the disappearance of Chinese player Peng Shuai.
In a Twitter post on Wednesday, former women's number one Osaka joined a growing number of people using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai. “Not sure if you’ve been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused", Osaka wrote to her 1.1 million followers.
Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has not been seen since she made sexual abuse allegations against a former senior Chinese Communist Party politician, over two weeks ago.
On November 2, Shuai posted on her Weibo social media account that Zhang Gaoli - who served as vice premier and was a member of China's top decision-making body - coerced her into sex, before the pair had an on-off consensual relationship.
The post was removed from her verified account on Weibo, and China’s entirely state-controlled media has suppressed all reporting on the case.
Peng has not been seen, or posted on social media, since.
In her Twitter post, 24-year-old Osaka said censorship is "never ok at any cost". The Japanese tennis star said she hoped Peng and her family are "safe and ok.”
“I’m in shock of the current situation” wrote two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka.
"I’m sending love and light her way”, she added.
Men's tennis number one Novak Djokovic also expressed shock at the situation and British player Liam Broady, from Stockport, said he couldn't believe something like this could happen in the 21st century.
Organisers of the women’s and men’s professional tennis tours have called for a full investigation into the Peng's disappearance and the sexual abuse allegations.
Women's Tennis Association (WTA) chairman Steve Simon said in a statement that Peng Shuai and "all women" deserve to be "heard, not censored". He said her allegations must be treated "with the utmost seriousness".
The ATP, which organises men's tennis, said it stands "in full support" of the WTA’s call for a fair and transparent investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse.
As is usual for retired Chinese officials, the 75-year-old Zhang dropped from public sight after his retirement in 2018 and is not known to have any intimate professional or political connections to current leaders.
Peng has won 23 doubles titles, including at Wimbledon in 2013. She also played in three Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has so far stayed silent on her disappearance and her allegations. The IOC and China are currently organising the Beijing Winter Olympics, which start on February 4. Her accusation was the first against a prominent government official since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018 before being largely clamped down on by authorities the same year. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was asked about Peng's disappearance in a press briefing this morning.
He said: “I have not heard of the matter, and it is not a diplomatic question.” In response to another question at Wednesday’s daily briefing, Zhao said he had no knowledge of Peng’s situation. He responded to a reporter: “Do you think the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry is omnipotent?
“I suggest you ask the relevant authorities about the relevant question", Zhao added.