Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai spoke with Olympic officials in a video call and told the international body that she is well, the International Olympic Committee said Sunday. There has been worldwide concern for her safety since she went missing shortly after accusing a former Chinese vice premier of sexual assault.
According to the statement, IOC president Thomas Bach, IOC Athletes’ Commission chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei spoke with Peng on the call Sunday. The IOC included a photo of the call in the release but did not attach video.
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern. She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated,” Terho said.
‘WHERE IS PENG SHUAI?’: Tennis world questions her safety
The IOC said that Peng thanked the committee during the 30-minute call for its concern for her well-being. It added that Peng would like for her privacy to be respected and that she would prefer to spend time with family and friends. It also noted that Bach, Terho and Li will have dinner together before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
The Associated Press reported that Peng — who once was ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles — was seen Sunday at a youth tennis tournament in China, with the Global Times sharing photos.
Peng is the most recent Chinese citizen to disappear after criticizing government officials. The AP noted that though some reemerge, they are often reticent to share whether they were detained.
The AP reported that Peng wrote Nov. 2 in a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo that three years ago, Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, forced her to have sex despite her refusals. Peng further wrote that they also had sex seven years ago and that she later developed feelings for him. The post was deleted minutes after it went live.
Peng’s whereabouts then became unknown, which led to international concern for her safety. Tennis stars started the “WhereIsPengShuai” hashtag.
On Nov. 14, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon called on China to handle Peng’s allegations properly, “meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.” The AP reported that even if Peng’s accusation can be proved, there is a risk of jail time or penalties for embarrassing the party.
Chinese state television showed an email purportedly from Peng that retracted the sexual assault claim. Simon said that he had a hard time believing Peng wrote the email and that it “only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.”
The concerns also reached the White House, with press secretary Jen Psaki calling on China to assure the U.S. that Peng was safe.
“We join in the calls for (People’s Republic of China) authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe,” Psaki said Friday. “We know the PRC has zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those that speak out and we continue to condemn those practices.”
That day, the Global Times’ editor-in-chief posted videos of Peng, though Simon said in a statement it “remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference.”
“This video alone is insufficient,” Simon said. “As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”