Chinese player Peng Shuai deserves “to be heard, not censored” after publicly accusing the country’s former deputy prime minister of sexual assault, says the Women’s Tennis Association.
In a post on the Chinese social networking site Weibo, Peng said that she was “forced” to have a sexual relationship with Zhang Gaoli.
“Events related to Peng Shuai are of great concern,” said the WTA.
“The allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.”
Peng, 35, is a former world number one doubles player who won two Grand Slam titles – at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the 2014 French Open, both alongside Hsieh Su-wei from Taiwan.
He also achieved a career-high singles ranking of 14 in 2011 and reached the semifinals of the US Open in 2014.
Peng’s allegations were made earlier this month and were soon removed from China’s internet. It is the first time that such a claim has been made against one of China’s top political leaders.
Zhang, 75, has not responded to her claims.
He served as China’s vice premier from 2013 to 2018 and was a close ally of President Xi Jinping.
Peng acknowledged that it could not provide evidence to back up its claims.
“As an organization dedicated to women, we remain committed to the principles on which we were founded: equality, opportunity and respect,” said WTA Executive Director Steve Simon.
“Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness.”
“In all societies, the behavior that she alleges took place must be investigated, not tolerated or ignored.
“We congratulate Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward. Women around the world are finding their voices so that injustices can be corrected.
“Our absolute and unwavering priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so that justice can be done.”