HONG KONG (REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka said she was concerned over the whereabouts of fellow tennis player Peng Shuai, who has not been heard from since making allegations of sexual assault against a powerful former Chinese politician.
Peng, one of China's biggest sport stars, said on social media earlier this month that a former member of China's Politburo Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, coerced her into sex and that they later had an on-off consensual relationship.
It was the first time the #MeToo movement has struck at the top echelons of China's ruling Communist Party, but the post was swiftly deleted and nothing has been heard from Peng since.
The global tennis community has grown alarmed as Peng has not been seen since the post and on Monday (Nov 15) the governing body of men's tennis - Association of Tennis Professionals - backed the Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) call for China to investigate the allegations.
"I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player who has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused," said Japan's Osaka on Twitter, where the 24-year-old has 1.1 million followers.
"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. #whereispengshuai."
WTA chief Steve Simon told the New York Times on Sunday that no one at the Tour has talked directly to Peng but that he had received assurances from the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) that she was safe "and not under any physical threat".
The CTA did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, while details of Peng's accusations have been scrubbed from China's heavily censored Internet.
The 35-year-old Peng was the first Chinese player to top the world rankings when she was doubles No. 1 in 2014. She won doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
Zhang, now 75, was a vice-premier between 2013 and 2018 and served on the Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017.