Canada’s tennis community has joined the call for an independent investigation into the whereabouts and well-being of China’s Peng Shuai.
Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., and Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino and Vasek Pospisil tweeted about Peng on Friday, using the hashtag “#WhereIsPengShuai.” The Canadian players joined a chorus of other tennis pros, including American Serena Williams and Britain’s Andy Murray, demanding to know what happened to Peng.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that it wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding Peng, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her.
“There’s a lot of players who are speaking out and we’re making a united front in drawing attention to what’s going on with Peng Shuai,” said Marino in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“We’re looking out for the safety and well-being of not just a tennis player, but an international person of interest.”
Pospisil tweeted a statement from the Professional Tennis Players Association that says it’s asking for independent evidence confirming the safety and location of Peng.
“There is nothing more important to us than the health, safety, and welfare of the players,” reads the PTPA’s statement. “We must unite and be willing to take action unless corroborated evidence is provided to the world about Peng’s well-being.”
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters that the matter was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.” The ministry has consistently disavowed knowledge of the issue since Peng first made the allegations public.
She wrote in a lengthy social media post on Nov. 2 that she was forced to have sex three years ago with Zhang Gaoli in his home despite repeated refusals. Zhang, 75, is a former vice premier who was a member of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
The post was quickly deleted from her verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive accusation were shared on the internet.
The 35-year-old Peng is a former top-ranked player in women’s doubles who won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She also participated in three Olympics, making her disappearance all the more prominent with Beijing set to host the Winter Games starting Feb. 4.
Marino and Peng have only played each other once, a 6-3, 6-0 victory for the Chinese player at the 2013 Australian Open. The Canadian said that although she doesn’t know Peng very well personally, they were familiar with each other as regulars on tour with the Women’s Tennis Association.
Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the WTA, has said that his organization is willing to pull out of events scheduled in China if Peng’s well-being is not independently verified. Simon has also questioned the authenticity of an email allegedly sent to him by Peng saying that she is safe.
Marino supported the WTA’s stance and said she was waiting for more information to come out before deciding if she would play in China again.
“We want to make sure that women’s rights are looked after and censorship in regards to the allegations looked into and investigated properly,” she said.
Tennis Canada issued a statement on Friday saying that along with the rest of the tennis world it has deep concerns for Peng’s health and security. It also called for independent and indisputable proof that Peng is safe.
“We admire the courage Peng Shuai has shown in denouncing the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving allegations of a sexual assault,” Tennis Canada said. “She must be allowed to speak freely without censorship and her allegation must be investigated with full transparency.”
The International Olympic Committee declined to comment Friday, saying in an emailed statement: “Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature. This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
Canadian Olympic Committee representatives have previously said that although they understand people’s concerns over the Beijing Olympics they do not believe a boycott would be effective.
“We share the global sport community’s concern for Peng Shuai and are monitoring the situation closely,” said Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker in a statement on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked late Thursday about Peng’s disappearance and whether Canadian athletes should still participate in the Beijing Olympics.
“Over the past many months, we have been having conversations with partners and allies around the world about the Beijing Olympics, about what our approach should be,” said Trudeau as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Washington.
His visit to the U.S. capital included a meeting with Joe Biden in the Oval Office, where the U.S. president confirmed he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games next year.
“There are an awful lot of athletes in Canada and around the world who have been training, focused on this very, very much,” Trudeau said. “We’re looking for a way to both be able to see them show their capacities and fulfil all the hard work that they’ve done for many years, while continuing to demonstrate our real concerns with the way the Chinese government has behaved.”
Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, said Friday it was calling for “an investigation with full transparency into (Peng’s) allegation of sexual assault.”
— With files from James McCarten in Washington and The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2021.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press