WTA CEO calls for investigation of China assault allegation

Sports

FILE – China’s Shuai Peng plays a shot against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France. Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Chinese authorities have squelched virtually all online discussion of sexual assault accusations apparently made by the Chinese professional tennis star against a former top government official, showing how sensitive the ruling Communist Party is to such charges. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The head of the women’s professional tennis tour called for a full investigation of sexual assault allegations made by a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion from China against a former top government official in that country.

Earlier this month, Peng Shuai, a former No. 1-ranked doubles player, wrote in a lengthy social media postthat 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.

Her post — which was removed from her verified account on Wiebo, a leading Chinese social media platform — also said they had sex once seven years ago and she had feelings for him after that.

“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. In all societies, the behavior she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored. We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward. Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected,” WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement released by the tour on Sunday.

“We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship,” Simon said.

Peng has won 23 tour-level doubles titles, including at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She was a semifinalist in singles at the U.S 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.

In the post, Peng, 35, wrote that Zhang, now 75, and his wife arranged to play tennis in Beijing about three years ago and that he later brought her into a room at his home where the assault occurred.

“I was so frightened that afternoon, never thinking that this thing could happen,” the post said.

Zhang retired in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life, as is usual with former Chinese officials.

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