A Chinese tennis player has not been seen or heard from publicly after accusing a former Communist Party official of sexual assault earlier this month.
Peng Shuai, once the No. 14-ranked player in the world, said Nov. 2 that Zhang Gaoli assaulted her three years ago in his home shortly after retiring from the party.
Zhang, now 75, was one of the highest-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party before his departure in 2018. After Peng shared her story on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, the post was taken down in about 30 minutes.
Peng, 35, has not been heard from since then. WTA CEO Steve Simon said China’s tennis association has told the WTA that Peng is safe in Beijing, but the WTA hasn’t been able to confirm that, the Guardian reported.
Simon came out swinging in a statement and threatened to pull WTA events from China if there is not a “full, fair and transparent” investigation into the reported attack by Zhang.
“If at the end of the day, we don’t see the appropriate results from this, we would be prepared to take that step and not operate our business in China if that’s what it came to,” Simon told the New York Times.
There are 11 WTA events in China during a normally scheduled year, and the WTA has heavily promoted itself in the country.
Other sports organizations, such as the NBA, have compromised on some things because of lucrative business relationships with China. Simon said that the seriousness of Peng’s allegations means the WTA won’t follow in their footsteps.
“In this situation, the WTA issue is about potential sexual assault of one of our players,” he told the Times. “That is something that simply can’t be compromised.”
Peng said she had a consensual relationship with Zhang for several years before he was promoted and moved to Beijing, at which point they fell out of touch.
Seven years later, she said, Zhang contacted her and asked her to play tennis with him and his wife. Afterward, the group returned to Zhang’s home, and Peng said he forced her to have sex with him.
“I never consented that afternoon, crying all the time,” she wrote. “Even if I’m an egg throwing myself at a rock, even if I’m a moth flying at a flame, courting my own destruction, I will still speak the truth of us.”