Serena Williams calls for Peng Shuai probe as US congress puts pressure on Joe Biden

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Serena Williams has become the biggest name in women’s tennis to speak out on ‘missing’ Peng Shuai. The Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion has not been heard from since making sexual abuse allegations against the former vice premier of China. The 23-time Grand Slam champion’s comments come as US congress has called for Joe Biden to pressure China over Peng’s whereabouts.

Concerns have been growing for Peng Shuai, as the former doubles No 1 has not been heard from since accusing Zhang Gaoli, the former vice premier of China, of sexual assault in a lengthy Weibo post on November 2, also describing an on-off consensual relationship with the now-75-year-old, dating back to 2011.

While #MeToo stories have rocked China in the past, the tennis star’s account is believed to be the first made against a high-ranking member of China’s Communist Party, as Zhang served on the party’s Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top ruling council – between 2012 and 2017.

Zhang has not responded to the claims, while a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegations when asked about the subject, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”

After an email allegedly sent by Peng Shuai to the WTA was released by China state-affiliated media on Wednesday (November 17), the women’s tour CEO and Chairman Steve Simon said his concerns had only been “raised” and added: “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.”

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A number of tennis players and high-profile athletes including Gerard Pique, Naomi Osaka and ATP world No 1 Novak Djokovic have all spoken out in recent days, as Peng has reportedly been ‘missing’ with no public account since making the allegations against the retired politician.

Former world No 1 and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams has now become one of the highest-profile names to share her concerns for the doubles star’s whereabouts, and called for an investigation into her claims.

“I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai,” the tennis icon tweeted on Thursday (November 18), also sharing the statement to her Instagram Story.

Williams’ words come after US Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana wrote to President Joe Biden, calling for him to put pressure on the Chinese government over the issue.

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In his letter to the President, Banks wrote: “Dear President Biden, Secretary Secretary Blinken and Ambassador Kerry, I am writing to you out of the concern over the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who accused a former senior CCP official for sexual assault on Chinese social media Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) two weeks ago.

“One of China’s biggest sporting stars, Peng Shuai divulged on Weibo in a post on November 2nd that China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and had intermittent affair with her for ten years. Peng’s Weibo post was taken down some twenty minutes after it was published. As Peng’s post became viral, the Chinese government blocked and censored various key words, even the word “tennis”. In the meantime, Peng has completely disappeared from public view and become unreachable.

“Peng’s allegation and disappearance have raised widespread outrage and concern in China and around the world. No one should have to fear for their life for using their voice. Peng’s safety must not be compromised because of her brave act of calling out on a powerful individual.

“Since your administration has been engaging in intense high-level dialogues with Chinese officials, I would like to urge you to raise to your Chinese counterparts in such interactions the issue of Peng Shuai’s safety and whereabouts and demand Chinese authorities to lift censorship and re-post Peng Shuai’s social media message that has been taken down.

“I would like to further ask you to suspend any high-level dialogues with China until China respond satisfactorily to our inquiries about Peng Shuai’s safety. I also urge you to warn the Chinese authorities that China’s silencing and abusing Peng Shuai, if not handled properly, will have a negative impact on China hosting the Winter Olympics of 2022, and will only exacerbate the movement to boycott the games.”

The WTA CEO and Chairman, Steve Simon, has also previously said he is prepared to move all tour tournaments out of China.

The season-ending WTA Finals is currently hosted in Shenzhen, having moved to the Chinese city in 2019 with the country able to boost the prize purse to USD$14million – the biggest in tennis at the time.

The year-end championships were hosted in Guadalajara, Mexico this week as a one-off after Covid restrictions stopped the WTA Finals from being held in Shenzhen, but many are calling for the event to move to Mexico full-time in the wake of the Peng Shuai incident.
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