The Women's Tennis Association has urged the Chinese Government to investigate claims of sexual assault made by tennis star Peng Shuai.
Peng made the allegations against China’s former Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli, on her verified Weibo social media account at the start of November.
The 35-year-old claimed she was coerced into having sex with Zhang, which began an on-off consensual relationship with the former Politburo Standing Committee member.
Peng’s post was deleted around 30 minutes after it was published, and she has not been heard from since.
WTA chairman and chief executive Steve Simon has now issued a statement on the situation.
"The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern," he said. "As an organisation dedicated to women, we remain committed to the principles we were founded on – equality, opportunity and respect.
"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 behaviour 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."
Simon added: "We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship."
The WTA has been praised for speaking out in support of Shuai, particularly given the organisation’s significant investment in China.
A lucrative long-term deal to move the season-ending WTA Finals to Shenzhen was signed in 2019, for example.
WTA founder Billie Jean King has also shared the statement, accompanying the post with the message: "Hoping that Peng Shuai is found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated."
It is the first time such a sexual assault allegation has been made against one of China's senior political leaders.
The 75-year-old Zhang served as China's vice-premier between 2013 and 2018 and was a close ally of President Xi Jinping.
Peng became doubles world number one in 2014, becoming the first Chinese tennis player to achieve this feat. She won Grand Slam doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and French Open in 2014.
The star has also enjoyed a successful singles career, and was ranked as high as 14th in 2011. She reached the US Open semi-finals in 2014.
Peng last played in February 2020, reaching the semi-finals of the Qatar Open in Doha.News Now - Sport News