Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has become the latest athlete to voice her concerns over the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
Ms Peng accused China’s former Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault on her verified social media account at the start of November.
The 35-year-old claimed she was coerced into having sexual relations with the former Politburo Standing Committee member, which began an on-off consensual relationship with him.
But Peng has not been seen or heard from since making the allegations against the ex-official, casting doubts over her whereabouts.
The Women’s Tennis Association said it had confirmed she is “safe and not under any physical threat” but that they were unable to reach her directly.
Posting on her social media, Osaka wrote “#WhereisPengShuai,” before adding a message which read: “Hey everyone, not sure if you’ve been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused.
“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.”
Osaka’s words come after several other tennis stars have spoken out on the situation. Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic said that he’d heard about what happened and described it as “shocking.”
He added: “More so that it’s someone I’ve seen on the tour in previous years quite a few times.”
French player Nicholas Mahut also expressed his support for Peng and said: “We are all concerned.”
Peng’s accusations mark the first time a sexual assault allegation has been made against of China’s senior political leaders.
The WTA have called on Chinese authorities to conduct a “full and transparent investigation” into the allegations.
Chief executive, Simon Stone, said in a statement: "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... women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected.
"We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censors.”News Now - Sport News