The Chinese government has been called upon by the WTA Tour to probe sexual assault claims lodged by Peng Shuai. She accuses Zhang Gaoli, former Chinese vice premier of harassing her sexually.
Shuai through her Weibo social media channel claimed that Gaoli who was a member of Politburi Standing Committee solicited sex from her. She gave in to his demands though the nature of their relationship was on and off.
Politburi Standing Committee is China’s top-most organ in the sporting sector. She added that she could not provide evidence to back her claim but it was clearly evident that they were both involved at some point.
Her post was pulled down half an hour later. China Tennis Association is yet to respond to the allegations. Given China’s strict internet censorship laws, it remains to be seen what happens next to Zhang.
He served as vice-premier between 2013 and 2018 and also served in Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017
There are now concerns about Shuai’s whereabouts since she made the post – she has not been seen.
According to Reuters, WTA said it will seek a full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations against Zhang, 75.
“The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern,” WTA Tour chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in the statement.
“Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored.”
The WTA Tour CEO said censoring Shuai who is a victim of sexual assault is unfair. Simon added that the claims must be investigated in-depth to end an assault culture.
Speaking separately to New York Times, Simon said that “I think everybody fully understands what’s at stake here on many different fronts as we’re going through it.”
“I think we’re certainly, from players to board to council, fully united that the only acceptable approach is that of doing what is right.”
Nonetheless, he said that the Chinese Tennis Association has assured him Shuai is safe.
Shuai is the world number one doubles player who scooped the tag in 2014. She became the first player from China to be top-ranked after double titles victory in Wimbledon in 2013.
She later scooped another win in the French Open 2014 adding to WTA Tour efforts to expand the game in this Asian country in the last decade.
Her predicaments with Zhang badly dent the image of the tennis players who have found themselves at crossroads with senior officials.
In the 2019 season, China hosted nine tournaments – WTA Finals included – netting $30.4 million in prize money.
The WTA Finals were played in Shenzhen for the first time and carried a $14 million prize. The world’s best eight singles players and eight doubles teams battled it out for the prize.
However, they did not push through to the end due to the COVID-19 pandemic first reported in China in late 2019. They were moved to Guadalajara, Mexico and played in 2021.
Coming to 2022, WTA says the tournament will return to Shenzhen. The city will host the tournament for the next eight years.