WTA demands answers, while IOC steps aside in case of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai
China’s state-run media released a statement it said was from tennis star Peng Shuai.The WTA's strong words came little more than an hour after Shuai’s name resurfaced in a bizarre post on the CGTN Twitter feed, more than two weeks after the three-time Olympian accused a former high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault, then went missing as her accusatory social media post was deleted.
Some of the world's most famous tennis players, distraught by the disappearance of colleague Peng Shuai, are challenging China's Communist Party to get answers. © Provided by Associated Press FILE - China's Peng Shuai serves to France's Caroline Garcia during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, on May 31, 2018 in Paris. China's Foreign Ministry is sticking to its line that it isn't aware of the controversy surrounding tennis professional Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her. A ministry spokesperson said Friday that the matter was not a diplomatic question and that he was not aware of the situation. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
So far it's a standoff with little visible impact as tennis players like Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic — joined by tennis governing bodies, human rights groups, retired players, and several athletes' lobbies— try to turn their profiles into power.
Where is Peng Shuai? A #MeToo case pits women's tennis against Chinese censorship
Women's tennis takes a stand for Peng Shuai, a Chinese player who accused a Communist Party leader of sexual abuse and has vanished from public view.It is a case that touches on the most sensitive topic in China: abuse of power by Communist Party leaders. It also comes as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February amid international calls for a boycott over China’s human rights violations.
Peng disappeared after making allegations of sexual assault over two weeks ago against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli who was a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee and a lieutenant of General Secretary Xi Jinping. © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Peng Shuai, of China, returns a shot to Maria Sakkari, of Greece, during the second round of the US Open tennis championships on ug. 29, 2019, in New York. China's Foreign Ministry is sticking to its line that it isn't aware of the controversy surrounding tennis professional Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her. A ministry spokesperson said Friday that the matter was not a diplomatic question and that he was not aware of the situation. (AP Photo/Michael Owens, File)
Athletes may sense a pressure point.
WTA CEO and U.N. take a stand over Peng Shuai’s disappearance
WTA CEO and U.N. take a stand over the disturbing situation of Peng Shuai’s disappearance. The United Nations is the latest to call for answers on the whereabouts of tennis star Peng Shuai, after she posted Nov. 2 on Weibo (Chinese Twitter) about being sexually abused by Chinese Vice Premie r Zhang Gaoli at his home. The post was swiftly taken down and all information about Shuai has been censored in China, including blocking anything about her on CNN in the country (and any links to her Weibo account). Shuai, a former top 20 player (No. 14), a two-time doubles grand slam winner, and a very popular player on the Tour, has not been heard from since.
China is just 2 1/2 months from hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics, which is facing a diplomatic boycott over allegations of crimes against humanity involving at least 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. NBA player Enes Kanter has been the most outspoken in defense of the Uyghurs, calling Xi a “brutal dictator.” © Provided by Associated Press Peng Shuai of China wipes her face during the women's singles match against Samantha Stosur of Australia on the second day at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, on July 3, 2018. China's Foreign Ministry is sticking to its line that it isn't aware of the controversy surrounding tennis professional Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her. A ministry spokesperson said Friday that the matter was not a diplomatic question and that he was not aware of the situation. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File)
Peng’s case is unique. She is a star athlete and has a platform and credibility that few other women in China share. The effort to silence Peng reflects the Communist Party's determination to squelch criticism of its leaders and to prevent any organized public response.
What we know about the apparent disappearance of a Chinese tennis star
The tennis star accused a former Chinese government official of sexual assault. The United Nations called for an investigation into her allegations and whereabouts on Friday. Some of the biggest names in the international tennis world -- from Naomi Osaka to Serena Williams -- have also lent their voice to the global search for the former Grand Slam doubles champion, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
Athletes are especially sensitive politically because they are well-known and admired. The ruling party publicizes their victories, especially those of a three-time Olympian such as Peng, as evidence it is making China strong again.
China's Foreign Ministry has repeatedly disavowed any knowledge of the case. Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told media on Friday the issue is “not a diplomatic question and I'm not aware or the situation.”
Peng wrote a lengthy social media post on Nov. 2 in which she said she was forced to have sex three years ago with Zhang. The post was quickly deleted from Peng's verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform. But screenshots of the explosive accusations were shared on the internet. © Provided by Associated Press FILE - China's Peng Shuai serves to Japan's Nao Hibino during their first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 21, 2020. China's Foreign Ministry is sticking to its line that it isn't aware of the controversy surrounding tennis professional Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her. A ministry spokesperson said Friday that the matter was not a diplomatic question and that he was not aware of the situation. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)
Athletes have been weighing in ever since.
Concern grows for tennis player who accused Chinese official of sexual assault
The apparent disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has attracted the attention of the United Nations, Serena Williams, members of the U.S. Congress, and other international, high-profile individuals. © Provided by Washington Examiner Peng, 35, seemingly had her social media censored by the Chinese government and had not been seen for weeks since she accused a former vice-premier of China of sexual assault. Celebrities and organizations that have typically been reluctant to speak out against human rights concerns in China have publicly expressed their concerns over the case.
“Censorship is never OK at any cost,” Osaka wrote on social media, adding the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
Williams added: “This must be investigated, and we must not stay silent.”
“This is horrifying. I mean, a person is missing,” Djokovic said at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. “The whole community, tennis community needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she’s safe and sound because if you would have tournaments on Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange.”
Players have been emboldened by the unequivocal support of the Women’s Tennis Association and its chairman and CEO Steve Simon. Simon has threatened to pull the WTA’s events out of China. That means almost a dozen next year, including the WTA final. © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Peng Shuai of China celebrates after winning the women's singles match against Venus Williams of the United States in the China Open tennis tournament at the National Tennis Stadium in Beijing, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. The disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai in China following her accusation of sexual assault against a former top Communist Party official has shined a spotlight on similar cases involving political dissidents, entertainers, business leaders and others who have run afoul of the authorities. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
“There’s too many times in our world today when you get into issues like this that we let business, politics, money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong,” Simon said in an interview on CNN.
Peng Shuai has finally appeared in public. Why is the world not convinced she's really safe?
Almost as abruptly as she had vanished, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai reappeared in public view over the weekend. © Andy Brownbill/AP China's Peng Shuai makes a forehand return to Japan's Nao Hibino during their first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
“And we’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it because . . . this is bigger than the business."
The Professional Tennis Players Association has called for player solidarity to defend Peng, who is known as a fearless competitor.
“We must unite and be willing to take action unless corroborated evidence is provided to the world about Peng Shuai’s well-being,” the association said.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by reports that tennis player Peng Shuai appears to be missing, and we join the calls for the PRC to provide independent, verifiable proof of her whereabouts. Women everywhere deserve to have reports of sexual assault taken seriously and investigated.”
Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, said Friday it was calling for “an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”
Global Athlete, an advocacy group, has asked the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee to suspend the Chinese Olympic Committee until Peng's safety is guaranteed.
“The IOC must use its substantial leverage to ensure that the international community is provided proof of Peng's whereabouts, that Peng is immediately given safe passage out of China, and that a full and transparent investigation is conducted into her allegations of sexual assault," Global Athlete head Rob Koehler said in a statement.
Despite Peng being a former Olympian, the IOC has remained quiet. A sports business, it derives 91% of its income from selling broadcast rights and sponsorships. But it prefers to cast itself as a non-government organization whose role it to defend high-minded ideas like “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity," which appears in its Olympic Charter.
The IOC says Peng Shuai is safe. Experts say the IOC has become a vehicle for Chinese propaganda
The International Olympic Committee’s attempt to assure the world that Peng Shuai is safe was not only insufficient evidence of her well-being, it was, according to experts and activists, a “harmful,” “disturbing” and “active” amplification of Chinese propaganda, one that made the IOC “complicit” in China’s silencing of Peng’s sexual assault allegations. The IOC, in a Sunday statement, described a video call between Peng and IOC president Thomas Bach. It represented Peng’s first verified communication with the Western world since she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese Communist Party vice premier, of coercing her into sex. And it proved that Peng is alive.
Kirsty Coventry, the head of an IOC’s Athletes’ Commission that is supposed to represent the interests of Olympic athletes, has not commented. The IOC always says athletes are their first priority, but there is growing pressure from some athletes to get a larger slice of the IOC's billion-dollar pie.
“Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature.” the IOC said in a statement. “This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
It also said it has received assurances that Peng is “safe.”
“It’s astonishing that the IOC would accept the government’s assurances, particularly as the expense of a female Olympian making grave allegations,” Human Rights Watch said.
The World Olympians Association declined to issue a statement. It claims to represent 100,000 living Olympians. It was founded by Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who heads the IOC preparations for the Beijing Olympics which begin Feb. 4. IOC President Thomas Bach is the honorary president.
“The IOC has more leverage than any other organization with the pending Winter Olympic Games,” Koehler of Global Athletes wrote to AP. “They need to use that now. Athletes going to these Games are watching how the IOC will protect athletes.”
AP reporter Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.
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More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Peng Shuai situation explained: EU calls for 'full' investigation into Chinese tennis star's allegations .
The European Union also requested 'verifiable proof' of Peng's safety in a Tuesday statementThe former French Open and Wimbledon doubles champion claimed retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli forced her into sex three years ago in a since-deleted online post to the Chinese social-media site Weibo. Peng has not been seen in public since, aside from a heavily-scrutinized video Chinese state media released of her at a Beijing restaurant on Saturday and an alleged video call with the president of the International Olympic Committee on Sunday.