The United Nations has added to the chorus of calls from the tennis world for proof of the safety of missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai and an investigation into her allegations that she was sexually assaulted by a powerful government official.
Proof of Peng’s “whereabouts and wellbeing” are important for the world to see, the U.N. human right’s office’s spokesperson, Liz Throssell, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
The U.N. is urging that authorities launch a transparent investigation into Peng’s allegations, Throssell added, saying it is “really important to ensure accountability, to ensure justice for the victims.”
The Women’s Tennis Association is willing to pull its events out of China — risk losing as much as $1 billion — if the country does not probe Peng’s allegations and provide proof of her wellbeing, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon told CNN late Thursday, saying Peng’s situation is “bigger than the business.”
On Friday, China again denied being aware of any controversy surrounding Peng, her allegations or her disappearance, with foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian telling reporters that the case is “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation,” according to the Associated Press.
“There’s too many times in our world … that we let business, politics [and] money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong,” Simon said. “When you have a young person that has the fortitude to step up and make these allegations knowing full well what the results of that are going to be, [we must] support that and demand justice.”
Some of the tennis world’s biggest stars have spoken out in support of Peng. Novak Djokovic, the top men’s player, said he was “shocked” to learn Peng was missing, saying he hopes she will be found and calling her disappearance “terrible.” Naomi Osaka said in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday that she hopes Peng and her family are safe, adding “censorship is never ok at any cost. Serena Williams urged her Twitter followers on Thursday to” not stay silent” about Peng’s disappearance,
Peng, 35, has not been seen in public since earlier this month when she accused former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, of sexually assaulting her at his home several years ago on her verified Weibo account, China’s answer to Twitter. She also alleged the two carried on an extramarital affair for years, which is banned for China’s high-ranking government officials. The post was later taken down, but screenshots went viral online. Peng isn’t the first high-profile Chinese citizen to disappear amid tension with the government — actress Fan BingBing went silent for four months in 2018 as she was under house arrest during a probe into her taxes. Alibaba billionaire Jack Ma stayed under the radar for three months after he said China’s banks have a “pawnshop mentality.” Though he reappeared in January, he has since kept a low profile.