Naomi Osaka is among those speaking out online amid growing concern for a fellow player that has “gone missing” after making a sexual assault allegation against a former top government official in China.
The Japanese tennis star posted on social media under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to join those raising awareness about the 35-year-old Chinese player.
In a Twitter post, Osaka, 24, wrote: “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’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way,” she wrote, adding that she hoped Peng and her family are “safe and ok”.
Osaka, a four-time grand slam champion, joined others in the industry who have spoken out in support of the Chinese player.
Novak Djokovic as well as the organisers of the women’s and men’s professional tennis tours have been calling for a full investigation into the allegations made by the two-time Grand Slam doubles champion.
It comes after Peng wrote a lengthy social media post earlier this month and claimed Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago.
She said Zhang’s wife guarded the door during the incident.
Her post also said they had sex once seven years ago and that she had feelings for him after that. Zhang Gaoli has not responded to her claims.
The post was removed from her verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, and China’s entirely state-controlled media has suppressed all reporting on the case.
Reports of the allegations circulated overseas for more than a week before Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chairman and chef executive Steve Simon issued a statement saying: “Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored.
“Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness.”
The men’s tour followed on Monday, with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) chairman Andrea Gaudenzi saying 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 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.”
Peng won 23 tour-level doubles titles, including at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
She was a singles semi-finalist at the US Open in 2014.
Her accusation was the first against a prominent government official since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018 before being largely tamped 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.”