Nov 15, 2021 - Sports

WTA calls for inquiry into Chinese player's sexual assault allegations

 Shuai Peng of China during her Women's Singles first round match at the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.

China's Shuai Peng of China at the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images

The Women's Tennis Association on Sunday called on Chinese officials to investigate player Peng Shuai's allegations that China's former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her.

Why it matters: WTA CEO Steve Simon took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement calling for a "full, fair and transparent investigation" and an "end of censorship" against the former world No. 1 doubles player, who made the allegations in a since-deleted online post.

  • The WTA risks putting its lucrative business relationship with China's government in jeopardy, with 11 tournaments and a long-term tour finals agreement, per the New York Times.
  • Peng, 35, hasn't been seen in public nor made any further statements since her Nov. 2 Weibo social media post, CNN notes. Neither officials from the Chinese government nor the China Tennis Association have commented on the allegations.

The big picture: Peng alleged on her Weibo account that Zhang "coerced" her to have sex with him and that they had an intermittent consensual relationship for about 10 years, according to screenshots translated by CNN.

  • Peng became in 2014 the first Chinese tennis player to be given a top doubles ranking after winning doubles matches at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014, Reuters notes.
  • Zhang, 75, served on the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, China's most powerful body, from 2012 to 2017 and served as vice premier from 2013 until his retirement in 2018.

What they're saying: "Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored," Simon said in his statement.

  • "Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness."
  • Simon also said that he understands that Peng is in Beijing, but added, "I can’t confirm that because I haven't spoken directly with her," per the NYT.
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