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Tennis Stars Raise Awareness for Missing Retired WTA Veteran Peng Shuai

Aug 26, 2019; Flushing, NY, USA; Shuai Peng of China returns a shot against Varvara Lepchenko of the United States in a first round match on day one of the 2019 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Editor’s note: This story contains alleged accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chair and chief executive Steve Simon called for a “full, fair and transparent” investigation by the Chinese government on Sunday after retired tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault.

This is the first public accusation of this nature against a senior Communist Party official, and since Shuai’s Nov. 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, the WTA veteran has reportedly not been heard from directly.

Simon told The New York Times that WTA received confirmation from the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) and other sources that the tennis star is “safe and not under any physical threat." But, he added that no one at WTA has been able to speak directly with Shuai yet.

“If at the end of the day, we don’t see the appropriate results from this, we would be prepared to take that step and not operate our business in China if that’s what it came to,” Simon told The Times.

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International tennis players have taken to Twitter, voicing their concerns about Shuai's safety. Former world singles No. 1 Chris Evert tweeted earlier this week that the accusations were “disturbing."

“I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned,” Evert wrote. “This is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated.”

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Billie Jean King reposted WTA's statement, adding, “Hoping that Peng Shuai is found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated.” Nicolas Mahut tweeted in addition to the statement, "The fact that Peng Shuai is missing is not only the WTA's problem. We are all concerned."

Naomi Osaka is the latest player to tweet the hashtag "#WhereIsPengShuai." Four-time Grand Slam singles champion wrote on Twitter: “Hey everyone, 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. Censorship is never OK at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK. I’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way. #whereispengshuai.”

From 2012 to '17, Zhang Gaoli served on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the "top ruling body" of the country, per The TimesShuai detailed in her post that Gaoli "forced" her to have sex with him. 

"Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?" she wrote, per CNN

"That afternoon I didn't give my consent and couldn't stop crying," Shuai wrote in her post, per BBC. "You brought me to your house and forced me and you to have relations." 

The post, which also described an on-and-off consensual relationship with Gaoli, was removed within minutes, according to The Times, and searches of Shuai's name and "tennis" reportedly "appeared to be blocked." 

"I couldn't describe how disgusted I was, and how many times I asked myself am I still a human? I feel like a walking corpse," Shuai wrote.

A screenshot of the post has circulated; however, Sports Illustrated has not confirmed its authenticity. 

“I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid,” Peng wrote in the deleted post, per The Times. “But even if it’s just me, like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you.”