The disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai

The concern for Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai continues to mount after her report for sexual assault against Zhang Gaoli.

Jess Bradbury
3rd December 2021
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Content Warning: sexual assault

Former world number one doubles tennis player and one of China’s biggest sporting stars Peng Shuai has disappeared after accusing the country’s former vice-president of sexually assaulting her.

The two time Grand Slam winner alleged in a post on, the Chinese social media platform, Weibo that she and, former Chinese vice-president, Zhang Gaoli had an extramarital affair over several years, which she claims he had tried to keep secret. She stated that Zhang stopped contact with her after rising in the ranks of the Communist Party. Peng then continued that a few years ago, the Chinese official had forced himself upon her and assaulted her. The post went viral on the platform despite it being taken down by censors within minutes. Her allegation is the highest-profile incident in China’s #MeToo movement, with the post going out to more than half a million followers. Subsequent posts and reactions, even the word “tennis”, appeared to be blocked and references to Peng have been removed from China’s internet.

Twitter: @EmilyZFeng

Concern for Peng Shuai’s welfare has continued to grow, with major tennis players such as Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams speaking out on social media about her disappearance. Many have also been using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai on Twitter alongside a photo of her, demanding answers for her whereabouts and welfare. The UN has said it wants proof of Peng's location, urging the need for an investigation “with full transparency”. An email supposedly sent out by the tennis player through Chinese state media has had doubt cast on its authenticity, with Peng purportedly saying the allegations are “not true”. Human rights group Amnesty International has said the email “should not be taken at face value”, whilst the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it favoured “quiet diplomacy” and wouldn’t comment. The next Winter Olympic games are set to be held in Beijing in 2022. 

Human rights group Amnesty International has said the email “should not be taken at face value”, whilst the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it favoured “quiet diplomacy” and wouldn’t comment.

Pictures and a video of the tennis star have since emerged, but it has not been enough to alleviate concerns about her wellbeing. The footage was posted on Twitter by Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of state newspaper the Global Times. It appears to show Peng being introduced at a Beijing youth tennis match, with Hu saying it was taken on Sunday - a claim that cannot be verified.

Twitter: @iocmedia

The Chinese government hasn’t responded to the allegations. The ministry of foreign affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told journalists that he was not aware of the issue and that it was “not a diplomatic question”. 
Steve Simon, the head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), has said he is willing to lose business by pulling out of Chinese sporting events. He said if Peng Shuai's allegations are not properly investigated and she is not fully accounted for then he’d “deal with all the complications that come with it”. He also continued saying: "We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward... Our absolute and unwavering priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so justice can be done."

For the translation of the alleged statement, click here.

Update since written: Peng Shuai has been announced as safe by the IOC, with President Thomas Bach having spoken to her in a video call with IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Emma Terho and Chinese IOC Member Li Lingwei on Sunday 21st Nov. The IOC's statement reports that the player is currently home in Beijing and asked for her privacy to be respected, and includes a picture of the quartet on call. The WTA remains concerned and is continuing to push for "a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship."

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AUTHOR: Jess Bradbury
English lit student with a very good talent for rambling. Twitter/IG @jessbradburyx

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