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20 Nov, 2021 10:33

‘This is horrifying’: Djokovic backs action against China over ‘missing’ tennis star

‘This is horrifying’: Djokovic backs action against China over ‘missing’ tennis star

World number one Novak Djokovic has joined the White House in condemning China over the predicament of Peng Shaui – and there is skepticism over the latest message purportedly issued by the "missing" tennis star.

With the eyes of the world on the scandal, Djokovic – the most high-profile name in the sport – reiterated his fears for Peng and said he would support the governing body if it takes action against China.

Peng was initially reported to have 'vanished' on Sunday, shortly after a social media post in which she made sexual abuse allegations against former Chinese vice premier and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member Zhang Gaoli disappeared.

A statement supposedly by the former world number 14, claiming she was "resting at home" and casting doubt on any further information shared by the WTA about her whereabouts, was widely considered not to have come from the player herself.

Now a new announcement, issued on network WeChat along with the message "happy weekend", has shown Peng in a room full of soft toys and playing with a cat.

The photos come after Djokovic urged authorities to take "whatever actions" are necessary to resolve the issue, joining the White House in speaking out on the troubling saga.

“The whole community, tennis community, needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she’s safe and sound," said Djokovic, voicing his absolute support for the WTA's threat of a tough response.

"If you would have tournaments on Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange. I do understand why WTA has taken a stance like that.”

“It’s important because this is horrifying. I mean, a person is missing. I don’t know, from what I said just previously, if it’s true or not that she’s found.

"I mean, I really hope so because she was number one in the world recently in doubles [and is] one of the most well-known Chinese tennis players.

"China is a huge country. It’s a very important part of the world, especially for the WTA. They have many tournaments there. I mean, this is necessary for us to take whatever actions.

“I heard just now from [tennis journalist Reem Abulleil] that the WTA is willing to pull out from China with all the tournaments unless this is resolved. I support it 100 percent.”

The organization Djokovic leads, the Professional Tennis Players Association [PTPA], released a statement on social media this week calling for unity and "action unless corroborated evidence is provided to the world about Peng’s well-being."

“The actual meaning behind that statement and the message from PTPA is that we must stand together," he said.

"Whether it’s a male or female player, whether it’s one player or more players, it’s necessary.

"It’s kind of logical that we stand behind trying to give support in one way or another, whatever that means.

“‘To unite’ means to come together and to figure out what kind of actions we can take: not just players, but players with ATP, WTA, kind of an initiated reaction from both ATP and WTA chairmans.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called for the People's Republic of China [PRC] to provide assurances about Peng's welfare.

"We are deeply concerned by reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a former PRC senior official of sexual assault," she said.

"We join the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe.

"I want to be clear on where the United States stands, generally speaking: first, any reports of sexual assault should be investigated and we support a woman's ability to speak out and seek accountability, whether here or around the world.

"Second, we'll continue to speak up for freedom of speech, and we know the PRC has zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those who speak out – and we continue to condemn those practices."

The editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper used Twitter to claim that the pictures of Peng and brief message appearing to be from her account were reliable.

"I confirmed through my own sources today that these photos are indeed Peng Shuai's current state," said Hu Xijin.

"In the past few days, she stayed in her own home freely and she didn't want to be disturbed. She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon.

Among a deluge of replies questioning the images, one asked: "What happened to her [network Peng posted the allegations on] WeiBo account? Did she post that she didn’t want to be disturbed?"