Naomi Osaka expresses ‘shock’ over disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

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‘Censorship is never OK at any cost,’ Osaka said (Getty Images)
‘Censorship is never OK at any cost,’ Osaka said (Getty Images)

Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka has expressed shock over the disappearance of Chinese sporting star Peng Shuai amid growing calls to reveal her whereabouts.

Peng, one of China’s most prominent sporting personalities, has not been seen in public since she accused former Chinese Communist Party officer Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex. She made the claim in a Weibo post on 2 November.

Now, the former world number one has publicly raised concerns about Peng’s disappearance.

“I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused,” Osaka said.

“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.”

Osaka also used the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it had received “assurances” Peng is safe but had not been able to reach her directly.

The sport’s governing body said she was “not under any physical threat” but called for an investigation. “WTA seeks full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations against former Chinese leader,” it said, adding that it calls for an end to censorship against Peng Shuai.

The ATP men’s tour also said it was worried. Chair Andrea Gaudenzi said tennis authorities were “deeply concerned by the uncertainty surrounding the immediate safety and whereabouts of WTA player Peng Shuai”.

“We are encouraged by the recent assurances received by the WTA that she is safe and accounted for and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Mr Gaudenzi said.

“Separately, we stand in full support of WTA’s call for a full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai.”

But the assurances have not been able to calm the growing concerns among people and tennis stars over the disappearance of Peng.

On Monday, Novak Djokovic said he was “shocked” and hoped she was doing OK.

“I don’t have much information about it. I did hear about it a week ago. Honestly, it’s shocking that she’s missing, more so that it’s someone that I have seen on the tour in the previous years quite a few times,” he said.

“It’s not much more to say than I hope that she will be found, that she’s OK. It’s just terrible. I can imagine just how her family feels that she’s missing.”

French player Nicolas Mahut said in a tweet that Peng’s disappearance is “not only WTA’s problem. We are all concerned”.

In her post, Peng said former vice premier Zhang Gaoli “forced” her into a sexual relationship and said they had an on-off extramarital “relationship”.

She alleged that Mr Zhang invited her to play tennis at her home while his wife was also there and sexually assaulted her. “I never consented that afternoon, crying all the time,” she wrote.

Mr Zhang, 75, who served between 2013 and 2018, had not yet responded to the allegations.

Peng’s social media post went viral and it was subsequently taken down. Other posts with the words “tennis” were also reportedly blocked.

Her accusation was the first against a prominent government official in China’s #MeToo movement since it began in 2018 before being largely damped down by authorities the same year.

When asked during a daily briefing earlier this week about Peng’s allegation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “I have not heard of the matter, and it is not a diplomatic question.”

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