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Peng Shuai: U.N. seeks Chinese tennis player’s whereabouts, investigation

Peng Shuai

WUHAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 23: Shuai Peng of China severs during the match against Garbine Muguruza of Spain on Day 2 of 2019 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open at Optics Valley International Tennis Center on September 23, 2019 in Wuhan, China. (Photo by Wang He/Getty Images)

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The U.N. is calling for an investigation “with full transparency” into Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai‘s allegation of sexual assault against a former high-ranking politician in China.

Peng “hasn’t been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media [on Nov. 2] that she was sexually assaulted,” Liz Throssell, a U.N. human rights office spokesperson, said Friday, citing information currently available. “We would stress that it is important to know where she is and know her state, know about her wellbeing.”

A lengthy social media post on Peng’s verified account on Nov. 2 said that she was forced to have sex three years ago with Zhang Gaoli in his home despite repeated refusals. Zang, 75, is a former vice premier who was a member of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee.

The post was quickly deleted from Peng’s account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, but screenshots were shared on the internet.

Later Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We are deeply concerned” about the reports about Peng.

“We join in the calls for [Chinese] authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe,” Psaki said.

WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon questioned the authenticity of what a Chinese state media outlet said this week was an email intended for him in which Peng said she was safe and that the assault allegation was untrue. It was tweeted by CGTN, the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Peng, 35, competed at the Olympics in 2008, 2012 and 2016. She was world No. 1 in doubles, winning titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She last played on the WTA Tour in February 2020.

The International Olympic Committee and the IOC Athletes’ Commission also released statements.

The athletes’ commission said Saturday it “is very concerned” about Peng’s situation and supported a quiet diplomacy approach that the IOC is taking.

“We also hope that a way can be found for direct engagement between her and her athlete colleagues,” the commission said.

“The IOC appreciates the concerns expressed by so many athletes and National Olympic Committees,” the IOC said in its latest statement Saturday. “We also welcome the support of the IOC Athletes’ Commission for our quiet diplomacy approach. This approach means we continue our open dialogue on all levels with the Olympic Movement in China.”

High-profile tennis players have drawn attention to the situation, posting on social media with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

“I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai,” Serena Williams tweeted Thursday. “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.”

Naomi Osaka posted Tuesday, “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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.