International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach had a half-hour video call with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, the Olympic governing body said Sunday, amid global concerns about Peng’s safety.
Worries about Peng’s safety have grown in recent weeks after she accused a former high-level Chinese official of sexual assault in a social media post Nov. 2. In the days after making the accusation, Peng’s name could no longer be found on Chinese search engines and she was not seen in public for more than two weeks. Photos and videos of her posted on social media by Chinese state-run media in recent days have done little to assuage fears for her well-being, with human rights researchers saying the images only raised more questions.
In Sunday’s announcement, the IOC said Peng “explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time.”
It went on to say: “That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.”
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” Terho said in the statement. “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.”
The IOC did not explain why Peng chose to speak with the organization Sunday despite having not spoken to other sports or international entities, including the Women’s Tennis Association, whose chairman and CEO Steve Simon has been demanding proof that she is safe and not facing punishment from Chinese officials for her allegation.
In a statement later Sunday, a WTA spokesperson said: “It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don’t alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion. This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”
Peng’s recent disappearance has brought fresh criticism to the IOC for holding the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing despite China’s recent record of human rights abuses. President Biden said Thursday that his administration is “considering” a diplomatic boycott of the Games, which would allow U.S. athletes to compete but keep government officials from attending.
On Friday, IOC executive Dick Pound told Reuters that the crisis over Peng’s whereabouts “may spin out of control” and force the IOC into taking a harder stance.
According to the IOC’s statement Sunday, Bach invited Peng to dinner along with Terho and Lingwei when he arrives in Beijing in late January and Peng accepted the invitation.