Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai said she was safe and healthy during a video call on Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said, amid growing international demands for assurances that she is free and not threatened.
In a statement, the IOC said Peng spoke to its president, Thomas Bach, for 30 minutes. “She explained that she was fine and that she lived at her home in Beijing, but that she would like her privacy to be respected for the time being,” he said in a statement.
“That’s why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nonetheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.
Photos and videos of Peng at a tournament in Beijing earlier Sunday had done little to alleviate global concerns over his well-being, after a public absence of nearly three weeks after allegedly a former top Chinese official had sexually assaulted her.
The call – with Bach, Athletes’ Commission President Emma Terho, and IOC member Li Lingwei, former vice president of the Chinese Tennis Association – appears to be Peng’s first direct contact with sports officials outside of China since she disappeared from public view on November 2.
Pressure was mounting on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to toughen his stance on China, with senior MPs calling for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The IOC has been criticized for being relatively silent in public as concerns about Peng rose last week. He insists he has pursued a policy of “quiet diplomacy” with the host country of the 2022 Olympics. The Beijing Winter Games open in February.
Bach invited Peng to join him at a dinner upon her arrival in Beijing in January “which she gladly accepted,” the IOC said. Terho and Li were also invited.
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing well, which was our main concern,” Terho said in the IOC statement. Terho, a retired Finnish ice hockey player, represents the athletes on the IOC Executive Board.
“She seemed to be relaxed,” Terho said. “I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”
Peng, 35, had not been seen or heard since she accused the country’s former deputy prime minister Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her. The allegations, which she made on Chinese social networking site Weibo, were quickly removed from the platform. Her silence, as well as general censorship within China of her accusations, had prompted calls around the world for information about her fate and well-being, including threats from the Women’s. Tennis Association (WTA) to withdraw all of its tennis tournaments that are expected to be held. in China.
After the publication of the IOC video, a WTA spokesperson and president Steve Simon said, “It was good to see Peng Shuai in the recent videos, but they neither alleviate nor respond to the WTA’s concerns. concerning their well-being and their ability to communicate. without censorship or constraint. This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into his allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that raised our initial concern.
Hu Xijin, editor of the state tabloid Global Times, posted a video of Peng attending a junior tennis tournament where she waved to the crowd on Sunday. Hu said the images were from the opening ceremony for a final in Beijing on Sunday.
Another clip of Peng signing children’s tennis balls as “a way to inspire more kids to play tennis” has emerged from other state media. This followed earlier footage released by Hu that showed Peng eating at a restaurant in Beijing. The clip appeared staged, with people at the table carefully specifying today’s date being November 20.
Other photographs of the former world number 1 doubles from the tennis match were posted on the China Open tournament’s WeChat page, Reuters reported, which said it could not verify them. Images of a smiling Peng appeared on a Chinese state-affiliated Twitter account on Friday. The authenticity of the four undated photographs could not be verified either.
The rush of videos and photographs was presented as proof that she was safe and not under duress. But with no sign that Peng could speak freely or that the WTA could contact her, the footage was widely dismissed.
A spokesperson for the tennis organization said the latest footage was “insufficient” and did not address his concerns. Responding to the restaurant’s video, Simon, the head of the WTA, said: “While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear whether she is free and capable of making decisions and acting through her. – even, without coercion or external interference.
“This video alone is insufficient. As I said from the start, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the sexual assault allegation is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear on what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads. “
Hu is one of the only Chinese state voices to speak publicly on Peng, but he limited his comments to English-language posts on Twitter and did not mention any details. On Friday, he called his allegations “the things people talk about,” while on Saturday, he claimed that Peng was at home “freely” and did not want to be disturbed.
“She will be showing up in public and participating in some activities soon,” he added.
The United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom are among those who have called on China to provide “verifiable evidence” of Peng’s fate and well-being. On Sunday, France added to the chorus, its Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called on Beijing to let her speak publicly to clarify her situation and warned that there could be diplomatic consequences if this did not happen. not.
The global campaign against Peng’s treatment has escalated and raised questions about the sport’s balance between restoring the Chinese market and defending human rights.
The WTA has been the most vigorous in its support for Peng, saying it was prepared to jeopardize its lucrative deals with China to ensure his safety as well as an investigation into his charges. ATP President Andrea Gaudenzi on Saturday said the latest developments were deeply troubling and the problem was “bigger than tennis”. ATP made no commercial threats.
International tennis stars have also called for responses, including Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka and Andy Murray.
The Chinese government has a long history of disappearance and detention of those who speak out against the state. Last week, state broadcaster CGTN tweeted a block of text that it said was an email Peng sent to the head of the WTA. But the text was widely seen as falsified or potentially coerced, as there was no evidence that she had sent it herself and the language of it mimicked previous forced confessions circulated by the CGTN.