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TENNIS

Gerard Piqué and world of tennis show support for Peng Shuai

The Barcelona footballer and Davis Cup promoter has joined Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka in appealing for help for the Chinese tennis player.

Update:
(FILES) This file photo taken on May 29, 2018 shows China's Peng Shuai returning the ball to Serbia's Aleksandra Krunic during their women's singles first round match on day three of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in P
ERIC FEFERBERGAFP

It has been 15 days since Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai reported that she had been sexually assaulted by former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and the whereabouts of the tennis star after this revelation remains unknown.

The head of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has cast doubt on an email released by Chinese state media attributed to Peng Shuai.

In the email, Ms Peng purportedly says the allegations are "not true". Steve Simon, chairman of the WTA, said the message "only raises" his concerns about Ms Peng's safety.

"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," Simon said in a statement.

World of sport comes together

The world of sport has come together to launch an initiative on social media under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to find out more about the whereabous of Peng Shuai.

Among the most well-known faces to have joined the campaign and shared the hashtag are Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué and leading players on the women's circuit including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Carla Suárez. Piqué's Kosmos investment group transformed the Davis Cup Finals, and the footballer is helping to back the campaign.

Peng is a former world No 1 doubles player who has won two Grand Slam titles - at Wimbledon in 2013 and the 2014 French Open, both alongside Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-wei.

Osaka in shock over missing player

Tennis star Naomi Osaka has been one of the most active since the disappearance. "Hey everyone, not sure if you've been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing after revealing that she has been sexually abused. Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way."

Serena Williams, another of the tennis greats, has also spoken out. "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," Williams wrote.

AI calls for investigation into Peng's whereabouts

Amnesty International (AI) has publicly called on the Chinese government to prove that Shuai Peng is safe and is also calling for an investigation into the tennis player's whereabouts as concerns grow over her safety. "The Chinese government has systematically silenced the #MeToo movement in China. Given its zero-tolerance approach to criticism, it is deeply troubling that Peng Shuai appears to be unaccounted for after accusing a former senior government official of sexual assault," said Doriane Lau, Amnesty International's China researcher.

"While it is currently difficult to speculate on the motives behind Peng Shuai's apparent disappearance, what is clear is that the Chinese authorities must properly investigate her allegations of sexual violence at the hands of a senior politician," Lau added in a statement. Amnesty International's representative stresses that "Peng Shuai's case highlights the treatment faced by women survivors of sexual abuse in China, women whose complaints are systematically ignored and who are often attacked for speaking out."

Peng Shuai missing over two weeks

Peng Shuai has been missing since she made allegations of sexual violence against a former senior Chinese politician over a fortnight ago. On 2 November, in a post on the Chinese social networking website Weibo, Peng Shuai accused retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex.

Reports of the accusations were quickly censored on Chinese social media and the original post (which read "you took me to your house and forced me to have sex with you") is no longer visible online. Zhang Gaoli was the country's Vice Premier between 2013 and 2018.

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